Do Your Employees Hate Their Jobs?

Former federal agent has advice for the work-weary

By Dana Wilkie Jun 7, 2016
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The most common time to have a heart attack is 9 a.m. on a Monday—the start of the workweek. The New York Times in 2006 confirmed what many workers already knew to be true: Staring down five more days at a job they can no longer tolerate is just too much to bear.

Before your employees—or you—have a health emergency, learn how to identify and possibly prevent job burnout. Leadership consultant Andrew Wittman, Ph.D., has advice for workers who can’t stand their jobs, and the HR professionals who want to help them. 

Wittman is founder of the leadership consultancy Mental Toughness Training Center in Greenville, S.C., and author of Ground Zero Leadership: CEO of You (Get Warrior Tough Media, 2016). He is also a former Marine, federal agent and special agent for the U.S. Capitol Police and has led security details for several high-profile politicians, celebrities and heads of state. 

In an interview with SHRM Online, he described the warning signs of job burnout, as well as some possible antidotes. 

SHRM Online: Most people who’ve grown disillusioned with their job don’t say so in front of their bosses. Most try to put on a professional face. What are some of the warning signs that can tell employers that someone dreads coming to work?

Wittman: The main symptoms of job disillusionment are contempt, apathy and feet-dragging. When it comes to contempt, 55 percent of all communication is visual—body language, posture, facial expressions. Watch for unbalanced facial expressions, like one corner of the mouth upturned and one eyebrow raised, or the fake smile, with the mouth engaged but not the eyes. Research has shown that even in a marital relationship, if one partner has contempt for the other, the relationship won’t be a lasting one.

As for apathy, watch for unenthusiastic, pessimistic or defeatist language. Phrases such as “That won’t work,” “I can’t,” “There’s no way we can get that done,” “That’s impossible,” “It’s going to be another one of those days,” “It’s close enough for government work” or “It is what it is.”

Feet-dragging occurs when time and energy are spent on avoiding a task and trying to justify why it’s not getting done. It’s like the teenager who avoids cutting the grass by complaining that the lawn mower won’t start. 

If employers observe a single symptom, it should be [considered] a red flag and addressed. If two or more are present, the disillusionment has most likely become cynicism and entrenched.

SHRM Online: If someone truly can’t stand a job, then trying to keep that person on board sounds like a tall order, doesn’t it?

Wittman: We ask our corporate audiences this question: “Rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 7, 7 being “I love what I do” and 1 being “I hate what I do.” If you aren’t at a 6 or 7, can you get there? If not, it’s time [for the individual and the organization] to part ways. If you don’t really like or love doing something, you won’t put the mental, emotional or physical energy and effort into doing it well. Mindset and attitude are contagious, and if someone is doing just enough to not get fired, that mindset and attitude will spread like a virus through the entire organization. Unfortunately, most organizations are already infected.

SHRM Online: What are the specific, concrete things an employer can do to make a disgruntled worker happier? 

Wittman: First, give the worker a target. There was a time in my own career when I was a uniformed police officer on Capitol Hill. It was intolerable for me—day in and day out. But I had a target of becoming a federal agent and that’s what made it more doable to stay in the job and take the steps necessary to get there. If a worker is struggling, ask him to make an honest assessment of what he wants his life to be like in 10 or 20 years. Once he’s identified his target, ask if his current job helps or hinders him from that goal. If it can help, point that out and find ways for the job to further his aspirations. 

Next, encourage the worker to become his own boss. No matter where you work or for whom, when you approach work from that perspective, suddenly, you feel like you’re in charge. You instantly have power and control, because you are merely leasing your services to the company. 

Finally, encourage the worker to practice putting all his effort into solving challenges, overcoming obstacles and adding value instead of rehashing, rehearsing and restating problems. Being solution-oriented, overcoming difficulties and overdelivering completely eradicate feelings of being trapped and subservient to a horrible boss, a less-than ideal paycheck or the company as a whole. 

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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