We all know someone who hates their job—and we often chalk it up to a bad attitude. But that’s not always the case.
There are four reasons employees hate going to work.
If you have a high-performing employee who seems miserable or checked out, it’s critical to figure out which reason it is so you can take corrective action. Do nothing and you could lose them.
I’ve personally experienced each reason. I’d like to share with you what’s driving disengagement in your company—so you’re empowered to fix it.
The four factors that drive engagement
We’ve identified four drivers of disengagement: poor job fit, poor manager fit, poor fit with the people on the team, and poor organizational fit (meaning company culture and senior leadership).
When we look at why people are checked out at work—or why they straight up hate their job—we need to be looking at these four forces that drive disengagement.
Let’s look at each in practice.
When employees hate their job
Have you ever felt like a square peg in a round hole at work? If you haven’t felt it yourself, it’s likely you’ve seen it a handful of times in your career.
When I was in college, I was on track to be that square peg. I was studying municipal financial management, and I was convinced I was going to solve the world’s problems the moment I left school.
But one look at my behavioral pattern (below), and you’d understand this role isn’t a good fit for my personality—at all.
Look at my B factor; it’s to the right of the midpoint. That means I’m highly extraverted—not a match for a job that requires working alone for long periods of time.
I also have low patience (my C factor is to the left of the midpoint). This means I like variety in my work. Doing repetitive tasks day in and day out isn’t enjoyable to me.
Look at my D factor: I have a low degree of formality—meaning I may not be as detail-focused as the role requires me to be. Across the board, this role was not a good fit for me and how I’m wired to think and work.
(Read more about the four behavioral drives here.)
It’s possible your employees struggle with the same person-role misfit. As a business leader, your goal should be to find the right job fit for each of your employees.
As a team lead, I want my social butterflies to have a chance to interact with others and talk things through to find a solution. I want my big-picture thinkers to think ahead and identify potential blockers. I want my detail-oriented employees to leverage those strengths to bring precision to the team.
Helping employees find the role that best suits their natural working style is critical to a great working experience. Objective people data is necessary to do this well. Here’s why: Sometimes what people have been doing isn’t representative of their natural strengths.
In the case of my short-lived finance career, I wasn’t bad at financial management; I just didn’t enjoy it. If my manager made decisions based on my skills or education, I could be stuck doing something that sucks the life out of me. Instead, I now enjoy a role that works extremely well for how I’m wired.
Behavioral data allows managers to uncover what drives and motivates their employees. It can also be used to identify whether an individual is well-suited to a role.
And if there’s a situation where folks have to stretch to meet the demands of a role—such as a heads-down worker joining a cross-functional project team—behavioral data can help managers better coach the employee through that experience.
To use my favorite analogy on job fit: We shouldn’t be asking our right-handed employees to write with their left hand all day. As leaders, we should ensure our direct reports are using as few emotional calories as possible to excel at the projects we’ve assigned them to.
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When employees hate their manager
At one point—very unfortunately for the 13 people who reported to me—I was given a management role I was woefully unprepared for. In my mind, as long as I was empathetic and treated everyone the way I would want to be treated, I would be a great manager.
Well, I was wrong. The Golden Rule sounds nice—and is widely accepted—but it doesn’t lead to great management. Great managers abide by the Platinum Rule: Treat others the way they want to be treated. Managers need to create an environment that suits the needs of the team. One that’s reflective of how they think, work, and communicate.
Fortunately, I now have the tools in my pocket to successfully navigate relationships with my team members. Take Felipe, for example. While Felipe and I are both Social Reference Profiles, we work differently.
Here’s what his behavioral pattern looks like:
I can tell from his behavioral pattern that Felipe really needs flexibility and freedom to do things his own way. As a manager, I want to offer him that opportunity as much as possible.
I can also pull a Management Strategy Guide that tells me how to best manage Felipe. Pretty cool, huh?
Using data-driven insights about my team, I can more effectively manage individual team members so they’re engaged and productive.
When your employee hates their team
Speaking of teams, there’s no dysfunction quite like team dysfunction. I don’t know about your situation, but I feel like team dysfunction typically becomes recognizable only once it’s past the point of no return.
Maybe you’ve encountered one of these scenarios before: Two employees erupt at each other on the floor in front of co-workers. Or back-channel communication becomes an avenue to gossip about the person on the team who doesn’t quite fit in with everyone else.
These issues tend to arise from a lack of understanding of behavioral differences—and little to no attention to how those differences impact team dynamics.
As a manager, it’s important to support your team in gaining self-awareness and awareness of others. This means helping them understand what drives and motivates them—as well as how their peers are wired.
An understanding of behavioral similarities and differences can clear up a host of issues—whether it’s team members who tend to dominate conversations employees who feel overlooked or interpersonal conflict.
As a manager, consider the overarching team dynamic. What personalities do you have on your team? Where will they clash? How will they work together? How can you manage and motivate to how your team naturally operates?
This is what my team looks like in PI’s Team Work Styles™ tool:
As a group, we fall squarely between the Innovation & Agility and Teamwork & Employee Experience quadrants of the Competing Values Framework. What this means is that, as a whole, we enjoy innovating and creatively solving problems—and we overcome challenges as a team.
With this data in hand, I can appropriately lead this group to success. I’m not playing by traditional management rules that say you have to onboard this one way or provide certain training materials; I’m creating my own playbook based on who’s on my team, what matters to them, and how they work best.
What this looks like for us is a lot of collaborative brainstorming. We get together once a week—very informally—and talk through how we want to approach our accounts. There’s typically no agenda. We just ad hoc talk about what’s coming up and how we want to handle it as a team. This approach won’t work for everyone, but it works great for the team dynamic we have.
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When your employee hates the company
One bad apple can spoil the bunch. I’ll never forget my first job out of college. I was excited to have a job to go to every day and passionate about the opportunity.
However, what stood out most about this job was a co-worker of mine just a few desks over. This guy made it abundantly clear—on a daily basis—that he hated each and every thing about the company, his colleagues, and his role. To say it was challenging to maintain a high level of drive and pursuit of excellence with this kind of behavior present would be an understatement.
Sometimes these culture issues stem from misalignment with the role, manager, or team. But more frequently, there’s misalignment between the people in the organization and the overall business strategy.
Let’s say you work in health care. It’s a compliance-oriented field. As a result, you need employees who are good at following directions and paying attention to detail. There’s no room for error here.
But let’s say you hired a bunch of people with a Maverick Reference Profile, like so many of my amazing PI colleagues. You’d likely spend a lot of time trying to rein them in—and they’d be exhausted by how little freedom they have to do things their own way! They’d quickly become that guy complaining about how much they hate everything about the company.
This behavioral misalignment with the overarching business strategy is common. We hire resumes—not behavioral fits. As a result, we end up spinning our wheels, wondering how we got here. We got here by not being intentional about aligning our talent strategy with our business strategy.
We need to be intentional in how we design organizations—the culture, values, and rewarded behaviors. Are we doing what everyone else is doing, or have we put something in place that reflects what we need to succeed?
How do you address these issues? It starts with uncovering what the real problem is. This playbook for addressing engagement issues can help you identify the root cause of disengagement so you can take high-impact action.
Remember, people don’t have to hate coming to work. That’s symptomatic of a deeper issue—one we can figure out and address. Together, we can accomplish our mission of Better Work, Better World.