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Posted: February 01, 2010

Rundles Wrap-Up: Pinheads

Job satisfaction's at an all-time low -- why?

Jeff Rundles

JuRundles_pinhead1.jpgst about everyone I know these days, when asked how work is going, shrugs that they are "hanging in there" or simply says, "It's a job."

I know a broad range of people - professionals, executives, trades people, salespeople and worker bees of all stripes. This cannot be a good sign for overall productivity. While nearly everyone reports working harder - more hours, more tasks, more responsibilities - and says their personal productivity is way up, with trimmed-back staffs and open positions not being filled, they also say their companies and endeavors are not only less productive than they used to be, but less productive than they could be.

Then I read the Conference Board's annual survey of job satisfaction - this time titled "I can't get no ... job satisfaction" - and I discovered that job satisfaction is at an all-time low. Some 55 percent to 60 percent of people surveyed, in a study conducted by the Gallup organization and the University of Chicago, give their job satisfaction low or very low marks; 23 years ago, in 1987, just more than 60 percent of workers rated their jobs high, with either a 4 or 5 on a 5-point scale, with 5 being the highest.

So clearly, it's not the current recession that has workers so unsatisfied; it's a disturbing trend. One of the things listed as the most satisfying thing about their job was the commute, which can only mean that our jobs these days are driving us crazy.

So it begs the question: why?

A leading candidate has to be that what constitutes work these days is ever changing, and as we all know change is difficult. Technology is moving at such a rapid pace that in just about any job the tools for working and the rules for what constitutes success are undergoing radical alteration. For instance, I've spent more than 30 years in newspapers and magazines, and for the most part the lessons I learned - the experience I garnered - have in the last five years ceased to matter.

Another culprit is corporate culture. Time was when companies large and small did more than just say they valued their employees; they valued them with tangible assets, like regular promotions, increases in pay and benefits, and real responsibilities like the freedom to make critical decisions. For the last 20 years or so this has been on the decline. There is no true partnership anymore between a company and its workers. The more companies demand loyalty from their people, the less they display toward their people. Ask just about anyone except the corporate shills, and you'll get the same answer: People think their firms will jettison them at a moment's notice for spurious reasons, so they, too, are ever on the outlook for something else. It's contempt breeding contempt, and it can't be a good thing.

But one explanation, I believe, trumps all others. When you delve into the whys and wherefores that people either hate or indeed love their jobs, you invariably hear something like this: "I love my job; the actual work. But my boss can be a jerk." Or, "If they would just leave me alone, everything would be great." Workers don't come home at night feeling tired because the workload is too great or the learning curve too high. They feel beat up by the people who make their work life troublesome. And to prove that point, talk to people who love their job: They will mention first the team they work with, the manager they adore.

So the crisis in workplace dissatisfaction isn't in change or economic angst; it is, quite simply, in leadership. The decline in workplace leadership is almost in direct disproportion to the increase in management training. Our business schools have evolved into disgustingly similar management factories, turning out a class of management clones, and businesses far and wide have ceased to innovate as they have joined this narrow parade. People doing the real work simply call them pinheads.

The trouble with pointing out that pinheads manage without leadership is that each and every pinhead thinks he or she is a great leader. It's a major part of their narrow training, thus the designation.

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Jeff Rundles is a former editor of ColoradoBiz and a regular columnist. Email him at jrundles@cobizmag.com.

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