Archive for April, 2010


Love your job?

Monday, April 26th, 2010

I was ordering a take-out lunch the other day and was really struck by the young woman behind the counter who was helping me. She was polite and efficient, but at the same time she seemed to be almost constitutionally unable to smile. We made direct eye contact several times throughout the ordering process but it was always the same:

“Welcome, sir can I help you?” No smile.
“Anything more you’d like with that?” Nothing there.
“Do you want some napkins? Do you need your receipt?” Stone-faced.
“All right, thank you.” Not a glimmer. No movement at the corner of the mouth, at the eyes. Nothing.

Does she love her job? It sure didn’t look like it to me. Now, the truth is, of course, I don’t really know. At one time or another everyone gives an impression that’s different from what they really feel. So it’s possible she does love her job and just isn’t a smiler. But as a customer, the impression I get in that moment is all I have to go on. So, based on that, the answer is no, she does not love her job. She doesn’t even like her job. Being there, wearing that uniform, serving her customers: zero fun, for her. No pleasure whatsoever.

Now, from a management perspective, the question of whether someone who gives that sort of impression should be in a position like that is a great question. But for this discussion I’m really more interested in the question from her perspective, about what’s good for her. (more…)

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Fired for being unhappy?

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Do you know anybody who is clearly not happy in their job? Someone who’s always whining and complaining about this or that, always spreading their negativity around to the rest of the team? Me too. I’m sure every organization has them. For me, whenever I meet someone like that I always think, since they’re so obviously unhappy, why do they stay? I mean, I know it’s not that simple, but still, I can’t help but wonder.

And then I found the answer. A friend sent me this article the other day, and it really clarified for me what I think is the ultimate reason unhappy people stick around: it’s because the organization lets them. For whatever reason, the organization hasn’t included “happiness in the position” as an essential requirement for the job, so the individual is allowed to stick around even though they’re bringing down the whole team.

As if to reinforce the point, a couple of days later I heard about a study on the impact of “bad apples” on a team’s performance. The researchers assigned different teams identical tasks, and the team with the bad apple came in last every time.

Now, before you launch into all the reasons why “firing the unhappy” is over-simplistic, unreasonable, inhuman, or whatever, please read the piece. It’s actually very thoughtful and sensitive to the people involved. Also, understand that I always err on the side of the individual and what they can do for themselves first. But at some point, someone has to enforce standards, and that ultimately comes down to managers and leaders taking action. Besides, you’re not really firing someone because they’re unhappy anyway, you’re just helping them find somewhere where they are happy. How is that not a good thing?

However you approach it, the bottom line is that if someone who reports to you is truly unhappy, you can’t just ignore it. You need to do something about it and help them find a position that’s a better fit. The change doesn’t have to happen today, necessarily. Don’t make it a bigger problem than it needs to be. But at least talk about it, get it out into the open, and start putting some energy into finding a better fit. Because having someone stick around in a position that’s a bad fit serves no one. It’s no good for the individual. And it’s deadly for the organization.

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