A Guide to Dysfunctional Management and the Evil Workplace
June 9th, 2013 by William

The Eeyore Syndrome

Are you unhappy in your present job? Do you get no sense of satisfaction after a hard day’s work? Or are you generally unhappy with your career? Do you find that things that used to give you joy no longer do? If so then you might be suffering from what’s called “The Eeyore Syndrome.”

Eeyore is a character in the Winnie-the-Pooh books by A. A. Milne. He’s the old grey donkey who is a friend of the title character, Winnie-the-Pooh. In the story he is generally a pessimistic, gloomy, depressed, and anhedonic character. Pessimistic, gloomy and depressed people usually wear their unhappiness on their sleeve for all to see like Eeyore. But anhedonic best describes those of us that suffer our unhappiness many times in silence.

In psychology and psychiatry, “anhedonia” is defined as the inability to experience pleasure from activities usually found enjoyable, e.g. exercise, hobbies, work activities or social interactions. Anhedonia also addresses the different aspects of enjoyable behavior, such as motivation or desire to engage in an activity and the level of enjoyment of the activity itself. Anhedonic describes anyone that suffers a general lack of motivation for their work or a lack of any enjoyment coming from their work?

In her 2012 Forbes article “New Survey: Majority of Employees Dissatisfied” Susan Adams tells us that “Manpower Group, just released a new snapshot survey that underlines the dissatisfaction among American workers. At a time of high unemployment, lackluster job growth and major uncertainty in world financial markets, many employees feel stuck in their jobs, unable to consider a career move even if they’re unhappy.”

The survey responses, from 411 workers in the U.S. and Canada, revealed that only 19% of responders said they were fully satisfied with their jobs. Another 16% said they were “somewhat satisfied” The rest, a full 66 percent, said they were “not happy at work.”

What I find most interesting about these statistics is that if you add the fully “unhappy” (66%) with the “somewhat satisfied” (16%) and we have a full 82% of workers in some degree of dissatisfaction with their job situation. Only 19% of us are satisfied with our job situation. I don’t know how you feel, but in my opinion, 82% (even mildly) unhappy employees is an epidemic by any standard.

That statistic includes the vocal pessimists and depressed individuals but also the silent anhedonics–all of these suffer from “The Eeyore Syndrome.”

From my own experience I can attest that I’ve suffered The Eeyore Syndrome in the past, in fact I’ve know many, many people who suffer this debilitating malady. Reflecting on the topic of last week’s post–how Millennials are in for a rough time in the modern workplace–it would appear that unhappiness with one’s career will become even more of an epidemic over the next few years and probably won’t get much better any time soon.

Despite this alarming rate of unhappiness, this epidemic hasn’t been publicized as much as it should. Why is that? Because, as I said, anhedonic people rarely voice their unhappiness so it remains hidden from view–it’s just simmering below the surface–allowed to negatively affect how they perform in their job. It thus becomes a downward spiral into lower job performance and more unhappiness.

I will tell you that if I were still in top management I’d be real concerned with that 82% statistic and seek to understand why. So I offer a challenge to all the managers reading this–understand why your employees are unhappy and do something about it–if you do you both will be more successful in your careers.

To that end here’s some insight into why so many people are unhappy with their work. According to the 2013 article “Top 5 Reasons Your Employer Makes You Miserable” put out by The Working Poor, “there are five key things that always seem to be an issue that make employees unhappy at work:

  1. “Not making the working environment conducive of the job at hand: If you’re going to have 50 people in an office and each is required to have things that they need only for work, give them the space to keep those things at work.” [I cover this stupefying reality about bosses (and management) extensively in my book Puttin’ Cologne on the Rickshaw. It’s really more than just having space to do your job or being delegated to a non-descript cubicle. It’s about the fact that many times management actively works to withhold both information and resources that employees need to be able to do well in their jobs.]
  2. “Double talking your employees: This is found a lot in sales environments [but really can be found in any work environment.] [The boss] tells the employees what sales numbers [or other goal] they need in order to be successful at their job, but they know that in order to reach those goals the employees may have to do things “outside” the guidelines of how they’re supposed to reach those goals. [This is related to #1 above–give employees the resources they need to be successful. Don’t make them have to break the rules or torpedo their fellow employees to reach their job goals.]
  3. “Managers that don’t know how to manage people: You have this person who always gets the job done! But that doesn’t mean that this person makes a good manager.  They need more than being good at their previous position.  But if they have no interpersonal skills and do not know how to motivate people in a positive way, they are not management material!” [This is why most employees, when asked what makes them unhappy, say it’s their boss.]
  4. “Not giving employees enough time off: Employers will tell you that they care about your life outside of work. But they require overtime on a daily basis! Employees need time away from work! Some people need/want overtime. [Some don’t–they can get their job done in eight hours. Don’t expect workaholic management styles to catch on at the lower levels of the organization.]
  5. “Not appreciating your employees: Big companies will tell you that they appreciate all your hard work. Then there’s a reduction in force (RIF) and your job responsibilities increase by 50%, but your pay increases by 1%–or not at all.” [This constant “down-sizing” that many companies practice is what’s called “the relentless race to the bottom.”

I’m sure that any of you reading this can add others to the list–your unhappiness is probably unique to your situation. Obviously this list doesn’t include factors outside of work that bleed over into how an employee feels about his/her life situation and thus job.

Or are you unsure whether you’re really happy or unhappy at work–sounds not possible–but I’m sure there are some of you riding the fence. So I thought I’d offer some insight that can maybe shed some light on your own case.

In his 2007 article, “Top 10 Signs You’re Unhappy at Work,” author Alexander Kjerelf offers a short test you can give yourself. Ask yourself these questions:

  • You procrastinate
  • You spend Sunday night worrying about Monday morning
  • You’re really competitive about salary and titles
  • You don’t feel like helping co-workers
  • Work days feel long
  • You have no friends at work
  • You don’t care about anything.
  • Small things bug you
  • You’re suspicious of other people’s motives
  • Physical symptoms

As Dostoevsky once said, “The greatest happiness is to know the source of unhappiness.”

Despite all that, I have to wonder if there’s not another factor at play in why so many people are unhappy at work. Reflecting back on last week’s post about the challenges that the millennials will face in the workforce, I agree with Canadian novelist Doug Coupland (who popularized the term “McJob”) that, “Unhappiness is something we’re never taught about; we are taught to expect happiness, but never a Plan B to use when the happiness doesn’t arrive.”

Remember, you’re still suffering “The Eeyore Syndrome” even if you’re not proclaiming your unhappiness to the world as the donkey does. In my book Puttin’ Cologne on the Rickshaw I provide my solution (Plan B) if you find yourself suffering this syndrome–find a new job, or career, or whatever it takes to move closer to happiness–life is too short.


One Response to “The Eeyore Syndrome”
  1. Jeanne Maconochie says

    Hi there, I check your new stuff daily. Your humoristic style is awesome, keep doing what you’re doing!

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