Let’s talk work.
After all, we’re coming up on Labor Day, which not only marks the unofficial end of summer but also celebrates our daily grind. Labor Day is supposed to be a yearly tribute to what we achieve at the office or on the factory floor, so it’s the perfect time to figure out why so many people I know hate their jobs.
I’m not exaggerating. The discontent is not limited by profession, either. Or by geography. Or by age and gender.
The country’s worker bees are unhappy. They complain about bosses. The overbearing ones. The disorganized ones. The shouters, the credit-hoggers, the namby-pambies. They complain about the actual work. The boring, rote type and the cover-your-ass variety. And they gripe about being underappreciated, about going unrecognized.
A friend who works at a law office recently bemoaned that while she was happy with her pay and her benefits, she still wanted something more from her bosses. “A thank you when I stay late would go a long way,” she said.
She’s hardly alone. Many employees don’t know what it’s like to get a pat on the back or some other verbal recognition for a job well done. They’re rarely told that they, and what they do, matter.
Another friend, who works in sales, told me several months ago that she wished she had a job that meant something; work that had purpose beyond hitting quarterly quotas.
I know this subject sounds touchy-feely, a debate best suited for a night out with friends, but it’s a much-studied and proven fact that employee satisfaction does affect the bottom line. Just last month, I read a piece by McKinsey & Company that highlighted the importance of happiness at work, particularly now as the workforce is being disrupted by automation. But the global management firm’s interest in well-being on the job isn’t new.
Look up its paper on “How leaders kill meaning at work.” Might be an affirming read while you wait for the barbecue coals to heat up. It touches on some of the concerns I’ve heard and that you probably have expressed at some time.
The authors conclude that “managers at all levels routinely — and unwittingly — undermine the meaningfulness of work for their direct subordinates through everyday words and actions. These include dismissing the importance of subordinates’ work or ideas, destroying a sense of ownership by switching people off project teams before work is finalized, shifting goals so frequently that people despair that their work will ever see the light of day, and neglecting to keep subordinates up to date on changing priorities for customers.”
Even as income has inched up slightly, most workers are just going through the motions at work. The most recent State of the American Workplace report by Gallup shows that only 33 percent feel engaged at work. That means that 67 percent of us have checked out.
American workers are sleepwalking through the day, waiting for lunch or the quitting bell, uninterested in improving performance or the company’s profitability. The percentage of disengaged millennials, the future of our system, is even higher: only 71 percent.
Other research has found that 79 percent of employees who quit their jobs claim that a lack of appreciation was a major reason for leaving and that 82 percent feel the boss doesn’t recognize them for what they do.
Ouch. Doesn’t sound like an uplifting Labor Day topic, does it? But the dissatisfaction is real. Work may be a four-letter word, yet those peons who keep computers running, documents filed, roofs fixed, children learning, stories reported, fires doused, taxes filed and letters delivered still want the slog to be valued.
(Ana Veciana-Suarez writes about family and social issues. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website anavecianasuarez.com. Follow @AnaVeciana.)