Unhappy at your job?  Looking for meaning in your work?  This is one of the most common themes I hear from business leaders and managers.  If you’re struggling, it may be that you are just in the wrong job.  But often, there are simple changes you can make to significantly increase your joy at work.

In Three Signs of a Miserable Job, Patrick Lencioni identified three keys to misery – or fulfillment if they’re turned the other way – on the job.  Benchmark yourself and your job against his three criteria to see how you and your job measure up.

1. My boss knows who I am as a person.

Are you the person the boss wants to see coming down the hall, or will she duck into the first available conference room?  Your goal is to be “high visibility, low maintenance.”  You want to give your boss a clear line of sight to your achievements and contributions, which will help her to do her job.  That’s high visibility.  High maintenance, on the other hand, means you are bringing problems but not solutions, rubbing people the wrong way, or creating drama in the workplace.  In other words, you’re creating problems, which is not how you want your boss to see you.

How do you become “high visibility?”  You tell your boss about your successes, you bring solutions to problems, and you do this on the channel she is most likely to listen to.  By all means, share personal information, too, but do it in a measured and thoughtful manner.

And if you are the boss?  Make it a point to know your employees.  What drives them?  What brings out their best?  What is important to them outside of the workplace?

2. I have a way to measure how I’m doing at my job.

Many bosses are not good at giving feedback, especially positive feedback.  If you work for a boss who is stingy with the compliments, my advice is, “Don’t look for water in the desert.”  Go to others – peers, friends, etc. – for your warm fuzzies.  The most valuable feedback is intelligent, honest, and kind.  Look for the people who will give it to you.

If there are no formal reviews in your workplace, talk to your manager about how you can get more regular feedback.  Use that process to hear what the boss has to say and also to share how you add value to the company.  Create your own benchmarks for success.

If you are the boss, giving your employees meaningful feedback is one of your most important responsibilities.  Don’t shirk it.  If you’re not good at it giving feedback, get yourself some training.  An annual review process is not nearly enough.  Meeting with your employees to set measurable short-term goals and talking regularly about their progress will improve their productivity, their engagement, and your brand within the company.

3. I understand how my work contributes to the organization as a whole.

If you’re in sales, you are lucky in this regard.  If you don’t sell, the company goes out of business.  But for some jobs, the connection to the big picture is not so obvious.  Take time to figure out how your job matters – and why it makes a difference to do it well.  I recently watched an interesting presentation, “Sprinkling Fairy Dust.”  A former “custodial engineer” at Disneyworld talked about how he learned that mopping up “protein spills” was a critically important task for the success of the enterprise.  If you really cannot figure out how or why your work makes a difference, that’s probably a sign you need to look for another job.

If you are the boss, make sure that every employee understands how his job contributes to the company’s success.  Build employees’ emotional connection to the company by sharing information about how the company is doing and how their work makes a difference.

If you are unhappy in your job and looking for ways to make it more meaningful, give us a shout.  If you are a boss looking for ways to build passion and engagement among your employees, we have ideas for you.

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