An equation for job happiness

An equation for job happiness

An equation for job happiness

Polls for 125th Labor Day find mixed results among American workers

By Vanessa Miller (Contact)

Monday, September 3, 2007

Some days, Chris McClimans likes his job. Some days, the Boulder-based “Internet-security plumber” doesn’t.

That seems to be the national consensus.

In anticipation of today’s 125th Labor Day, numerous organizations and institutions have endeavored to take the pulse of the nation’s workforce by polling U.S. employees about their jobs.

But results of the recent studies point to a mixed conclusion: Americans seem to both enjoy, and despise, what they do for a living.

Case A: A Gallup poll found about 77 percent of U.S. workers hate their jobs.

Case B: A University of Chicago study found that 86 percent of people polled between 1972 and 2006 are satisfied at work.

Karen Anderson drives the beverage cart through Louisville’s Coal Creek Golf Course on Friday. Anderson is a beverage-cart veteran after nine years of relieving parched golfers. She’s so popular with the regulars that several players, during a recent tournament at the course, named their team, “Where’s Karen?” Anderson said she likes her job because she feels appreciated and that she’s making a difference.

The most-satisfied workers are people who are working after age 65, have had more education and make more money, according to the Chicago study.

But one leadership guru who published his workplace findings in Time magazine said there’s more to the makeup of happy and unhappy workers than age and finances.

According to writer and consultant Pat Lencioni, symptoms of miserable jobs can be grouped into three camps: anonymity, irrelevance and “immeasurement.”

“A miserable job is universal,” Lencioni writes in the Time article. “It is one that makes a person cynical and frustrated and demoralized when they go home at night.”

Here’s how Lencioni defines each miserable category – and a few Boulder County workers who either hate or love their jobs because they do or don’t suffer from the symptoms Lencioni has pegged.

Anonymity: The feeling employees get when they realize their managers have little interest in them.

Marca Hagenstad, 38, of Eldora, said she knows that feeling well.

For a while, life was good as an environmental economist. Hagenstad said she would go weeks, while toiling on a large project, without seeing or talking to her boss. And that was fine – even preferred, she said.

But, as Hagenstad’s project began to wind down and further direction became necessary, she said a little face time with her superior would have been helpful.

“I would go for a long time without seeing my boss,” she said.

That led to less productivity and eventually made her work – and the work of some of her peers – unnecessary, Hagenstad said. Now she’s out of a job.

“There was nothing to do in the end,” she said. “At the end of the day it was like, ‘I didn’t contribute to the universe, not even a little bit today.'”

That leads to job-misery symptom No. 2.

Irrelevance: When employees can’t see how their jobs make a difference in the lives of other people.

Fortunately, said Karen Anderson, she rarely has that problem. Unlike Hagenstad’s job, hers is one that gets praised often.

“People are always so happy to see me,” said Anderson, 48, of Boulder.

She is, after all, in charge of delivering drinks to parched golfers on the course.

“People are always in a good mood,” she said.

Anderson, the “beverage-cart girl” at Louisville’s Coal Creek Golf Course, and Greg Nidy, the course’s food and beverage director, both said they play an important role in people’s days and lives.

“It’s the idea that we get to be a part of helping someone have a great, memorable experience,” said Nidy, 28, of Boulder.

If he ever feels that he’s no longer bettering a community or a company, Nidy said he’ll take his talents elsewhere.

“A sign of a good employee is when they realize their greatness at a particular company has been reached,” he said.

But not everyone can tell when they’re making a difference.

Enter job-misery sign No. 3.

Immeasurement: It might not be a real word, but it’s a real symptom of workplace agony, Lencioni writes. “Immeasurement” is the inability of employees to assess or measure their contribution or success.

Generally, McClimans – the Internet plumber – said he loves his job.

He can do it any place he wants. (Right now he likes Boulder.) He can do it any way he wants. (He’s self-employed.) And he can do it any time he wants. (Happy hour occasionally calls.)

But, McClimans, 31, said that when he closes up shop each day and thinks back about the hours he spent on the keyboard, sometimes it’s tough to visualize the product of his toil.

“I work with software, and there’s nothing to touch or feel,” he said. “My job is to come up with the next big thing, but what’s my daily measure of success?”

For Braden Smith, 43, of Lafayette, measuring his progress is easy.

He’s a product designer, meaning he gets to build stuff – from sporting goods to consumer electronics. When he’s finished sketching and creating a project, he gets to put on the finishing touches and see the look of satisfaction on his customer’s face.

Although Lencioni said the meat of job misery can be grouped into these three categories, its victims are boundless.

“Misery spans all income levels, ages and geography,” he writes in the Time article.

And its affects can plague more than the nation’s workforce. Citing a Gallup poll, Lencioni said unhappy employees can cost a business more than $350 billion in lost productivity.

But, Lencioni said, there’s a cure for an unhappy workplace, and it lies in the management. Bosses can better employee morale by showing interest in their workers, reminding employees how they’re helping others and creating ways to measure success, he said.