Young workers avoid miserable jobs: Quality of life more important than work to Millennials

Have you joined the millions of readers of Patrick Lencioni’s books? If you have not, this would be a good time to start. They have reached the level of numerous: more than 15, it looks like.

His core books are written in fable form, they’re easy to read and, from my perspective, 100 percent relevant. In this column, I would like to talk about one of his books and the correlation to what we’re seeing in Generation Y in particular.

In 2007, Lencioni wrote “The Three Signs of a Miserable Job.” Let me net out a few of his thoughts (straight from the book):

  • A miserable job is not the same as a bad one.
  • It’s important to understand that being miserable has nothing to do with the actual work a job involves.
  • It would be difficult to accurately measure the amount of misery in the workforce, but my experience tells me this: more people out there are miserable in their jobs than fulfilled in them. And the cost of this in both economic and human terms is staggering.

Three underlying factors will make a job miserable, according to Lencioni. I will share them below, along with a brief explanation for each:

  • Anonymity – Humans need to be understood and appreciated for their unique abilities and contributions. Those who see themselves as invisible, generic or anonymous cannot love their jobs, no matter what they’re doing.
  • Irrelevance – Every person needs to know that his or her work matters to someone. Anyone. Even just one person.
  • Immeasurement – Employees need to be able to gauge their progress and level of contribution for themselves. Without a tangible means of assessing success or failure, motivation eventually deteriorates. Many employees operate without a set of clear expectations.

Members of Gen Y are not used to being anonymous, irrelevant or immeasureable.

An employee will know for sure within six months if they are in a situation that is sustainable.

I’m going to share a few examples of Gen Y employees who, during the first one to two years of their job, shared feedback with someone about one or more of the above “misery” factors. Each one of these Gen Y employees ultimately left their jobs. Each one of these employees I would also characterize as top performers or high potentials.

A young female joined a marketing department of an organization in Milwaukee. She was put in charge of things too early on without any attention and without any guidance. She felt invisible (anonymity), and she felt unsupported. Because of this, she really had no clear idea of what success was supposed to look like (immeasurement). She tried diligently to get the attention and support of a more senior level person to help her. She received virtually no response. In fact, many leaders look at this situation and think “I figured it out when I was your age; you figure it out!”

I asked her about six months into her job, “How do you like your new job?” Her reply was “I HATE it! I’m miserable.” I’m not making this up. These were her exact words. She left within a year and said, “I have to go somewhere where what I’m doing matters, where I’m part of a team.” She didn’t leave because she didn’t like the work. She left because the factors surrounding her work created an unbearable situation for her.

One of my peers in Milwaukee shared the story of his daughter (I’ll call her Anna) who, as a 20-something-year-old professional found a job in a line of work she was passionate about. She reported to a leader who made two errors over and over: She took credit for Anna’s work (rendering her contributions irrelevant), and she answered any question directed to Anna by others during staff meetings (making Anna feel completely invisible). Phone calls home were filled with conversation about how miserable she was at this job. She always added, “It’s such a shame, because I love what I do!”

In another situation, an executive secretary, who also happened to enjoy the work she was doing lamented about the fact that most of the executives, whose offices surrounded her desk, didn’t have the courtesy to even say good morning to her, let alone acknowledge her as a person during any other part of the day. Her words to me: “I feel completely invisible, like a piece of furniture.” She is anonymous.

These kinds of things do make people miserable. As Lencioni shares, this is the kind of stuff employees take home with them at the end of the day. When considering the relationship that exists between Life and Work, Gen Ys have this level of priority:

  • Life
  • Work

They are not willing to compromise the quality of their life by being miserable at work. And, make no mistake, this does not mean they are not willing to work hard.

Aleta Norris, along with Nancy Lewis, is a co-founding partner of Impact Consulting Group LLC and Living As A Leader, a leadership training, coaching and consulting firm in Brookfield. You may send Aleta your ‘Leading Generation Y’ question to Also, visit

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