In her book 16 Mondays, Philadelphia’s Akilah t’Zuberi (ex-wife of History Detectives co-host Tukufu Zuberi) paints a picture of a global epidemic of workplace misery and strife and says she has a plan to fix it. Here, she tells us how your workplace unhappiness is costing the country hundreds of billions of dollars each year.
You’ve held a lot of jobs in your lifetime, including community college teacher and prison guard. Which was the worst?
The prison was probably the worst experience. I worked as a prison guard at Soledad in the ’70s at a time when women were just being allowed to be prison guards. I was maybe 22. I didn’t really understand the impact of working in a place where you’re locked up and locked in all day. The environment was one that was too overwhelming for a young female of 22.
So some people hate their jobs. So what? Why do you care so much?
One reason is because of what job dissatisfaction and workplace misery means. It means that people are unhappy. They are going to jobs every day, eight hours a day, five days a week. If you started working after you went to college and got a professional degree, probably 83,000 hours of your life will be spent on the job. The only other thing we do that much is sleep. We do not spend that much time with our families. That is too much time spent being unhappy. Emotionally, it will have an impact on who you are, on families, on our communities when people dislike what they do every day.
How many people does this affect?
A recent poll by Gallup says 76 percent of workers are disengaged in the job. Emotionally, they have disconnected. Of them 19 percent are actively disengaged, meaning they are tweeting, they’re on Facebook, they’re doing everything that they can do but they are not working. And that number is growing.
What does that mean in dollars and cents?
There was a study done by Teresa Amabile, a professor at Harvard Business School. The study suggests that the number of dissatisfied workers across all professions and all income levels is growing. In 2010, as a result of workplace misery, businesses are estimated to have lost $300 billion in productivity. Some say more like $365 billion. The global cost is probably $500 billion.
So if I am a CEO, how do I know this is a problem in my company?
Your business is not growing. Your business is not expanding. And managers, supervisors, leaders, they know that something is going on in their workplace. There’s no way that someone does not know that 76 percent of their employees are disengaged. Businesses are looking to create more markets, buy they cannot because creative potential has been arrested by workplace misery. The creative potential is the workers. Some businesses have been looking to solve this problem. They have been working on it. And they look outside of the workplace to locate a solution. But this is not working. What I am saying is, allow workers to address their own misery, because only they can do it. Happiness comes from within.
Are you saying that my company needs to stop the in-office massages and Phillies ticket raffles?
Well, if your employer is doing that in an effort to get you to work harder, to work more, it’s not working. One business changed the tables in the lunchroom to bigger tables and painted the lunchroom a brighter color. Maybe that will do it. No. Businesses tried giving bonuses and more vacation time. Not working, because only the worker knows why she is unhappy and only the worker is going to be able to explore it. The best thing your employer could do for you is to help you to explore your disconnect, your unhappiness, so that you could correct your own issues.
Which is, of course, where your book comes in. So tell me how you fix the problem.
The book is 16 weeks of exercises, and they begin on Monday morning. And each week, the worker is going to explore one of the relationships that she has in the workplace. There are relationships with the people there, coworkers, the boss. You have a relationship with what you do, your purpose, your work. There’s your relationship with the finances of the workplace. And your relationship with your body, your health in the workplace. I guarantee you it is in those relationships that they’ve got some things going on that make those workplaces and their interactions not such a great or pleasant experience.
What about the other 24 percent? The people who are engaged and satisfied. Who are they?
They tend to be older. They are usually people who have maybe 10 more years to go, and then they’re out. The baby boomers are turning 65 years old, 10,000 every week for the next 19 years. And because the people who are the most satisfied are on the way out, we’ve got some serious issues.