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April 23, 2006

Attitude as it relates to job performance


Long story short: it doesn't.

Those who believe an unhappy person doesn't do as good a job as one delighted with things as they are — I believe they are simply out of touch with the real world.

Many of the excellent performers I know personally in various fields — as disparate as law, gardening, sales, waitressing, medicine, airline pilot, coffee roaster, upscale real estate broker, and business school admissions committee member — are not very thrilled with what they do.

Some have to fight every morning to make it in, so unhappy and angry are they with their lot.

Don't give me that "Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow" pap — it's a sound bite to keep you anesthetized.

I got through medical school only by riding a combination of fear, uncertainty and well–concealed rage at the whole process.

I left general practice after two years because I was bored to tears and devastated each night when I got home, a combination of emotional fatigue and (short–term, I hope) brain damage resulting from listening to 30 depressed people a day tell me the somatic manifestations of their misery.

But guess what?

Every single practice I worked at during that two–year run–up to beginning my anesthesiology residency (which I absolutely loved every minute of, by the way) begged me to stay and become full–time.

They loved me.

I'm talking five or so different groups around the greater L.A. area including Kaiser, one in East Los Angeles in the heart of the barrio, one in Beverly Hills and a couple others.


You can believe what you like but what they all told me is that I was a doctor who really cared about the patients and the patients — most of whom I'd seen only once or twice during my short stint as a fill–in — told them so.

So drop the "why don't you quit if you're so unhappy?" stuff — it's silly and tedious and simply marks you as just another Kool–Aid drinker.

Me, I'd much rather tell it like it is than live in some fantasyland.

I'm with Jerzy Grotowski, who so memorably remarked, "Daily life involves endless pretexts."


April 23, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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This has been studied by organizational behavior people for a long time, it is, a least statistically, true. Here is just one citation from a paper I read recently; there are many others if you just search scholar.google.com

Psychological well-being and job satisfaction as predictors of job performance.

In fact, as that paper notes, overall happiness (personal well-being) correlates more strongly with performance than simple "job satisfaction." I like playing Devil's Advocate too, but you have clearly not done your homework on this one.

Posted by: Dan | May 22, 2007 12:30:21 PM

To me, and please take no offense to this Joe, it sounds like you are just a very good actor. If you can bullshit your way through life, make people feel like you care, then the Oscar goes to.................you.
I personally don't think you can get very far in life without some help through medication, perscribed or not, or spiritual belief, IF your attitude isn't in the plus zone. Without a little help, you just couldn't make it. I beg to differ, attitude is EVERYTHING.
love your blog Joe

Posted by: meg | Jun 12, 2006 8:15:29 AM

I feel the hypotheses that people happy with life are happy with job needs to be proved through empirical studies. I am personally of the opinion that it is just the other way. If a person is happy with the job he/she is doing, tends to happy life at home. Now as Job Satisfaction is an attitude towards job, and satisfaction leads to happiness, one could very well say that people having high job satisfaction would have high life satisfaction. So it is basically the attitude which matters for making someone happy at home/life. Further the question as to whether the Attitude (satisfaction as one) has a relationship with Performance, I would say it does have a +ve correlation. Since a person who has positive attitude would certainly be more concerned about the performance because of his sensitivities.
I have met many people in my life, who are happy at all places having +ve attitude towards life, whereas other group of people who are unhappy at all places, having -ive attitude towards life. So ATTITUDE is the keyword.

Posted by: Vijay Shrotryia | Jun 12, 2006 1:38:37 AM

i disagree.

call me anesthetized, but there is a difference between genuine deep misery over your position in the world and facing a constant share of adversity. everyone faces hardship and anone are too thrilled about it. those who excell take the hit in the same way that a runner accepts the pain.
the distinction for me is those that have become complacent in their misery. they don't do as well of a job when you consider the effect of their constant grim demeanor on those around them.
they don't have to quit if they aren't happy, because if i was ther boss, i'd lay them off as soon as i could.
i hate complainers and i hate "negative nellies". constant unhappiness casts a damaging pall over a team environment and the only discourse for a leader of that team is to show them the curb.

Posted by: hornsofthedevil | Apr 24, 2006 5:29:07 PM

Joe dear, sounds just like something you would do. You got sick of their whining so learned how to (legally) put them to (temporary, I'm sure) sleep so you no longer have to listen to any such yammering.

Very well executed career move I must say.

Posted by: IB | Apr 24, 2006 10:37:20 AM

Every job I've ever done has aspects I both love and hate. I do lots of things, almost all of them artsy-fartsy. As far as writing is concerned, some of the best stuff (not in just my own estimation but also that of some real genuine writers) I've ever done has been when I was the most pissed, disgruntled, depressed, miserable individual you could ever encounter. Some of the most reprehensible dreck happened when I was happiest about writing it.

When I'm working on an art project, usually I'm focused on finishing. My back hurts, my ass hurts from too much sitting, I'm going blind from eyestrain. Every now and then, I'm crazy about it. Mostly I want to be able to stand back and say, Yay, I'm done!

And music. Ah. Mostly, music-making is a WHOLE lot of skill. A little talent, some inspiration, and TONS of hard work. I don't ever remember practicing being all that much fun. The end result was, but no amount of wishing that skill into being would cut it. I think of musicians as workmen. (Even us girls.) Loving to do it is great, and probably a necessary ingredient somewhere in the background for working so hard at it, but it's the ability, the proficiency, that gets the job done well. And that's really kind of boring, when you get down to it.

Posted by: Flutist | Apr 23, 2006 8:33:01 PM

There was a show a while back on HBO that bombed that I liked, "The Mind of the Married Man." There was a scene that I still laugh at every time I think of it where two guys are trying to console a third guy who is going through a divorce in their favorite bar hangout. A beautiful woman walks in and the two guys keep telling the third, "Chin up. She's checking you out. You need to go talk to her. She's into you." etc. etc. He picks his head up from the bar and looks at her for a minute and says, "I don't care what she looks like. There's some man somewhere tired of putting up with her shit."

That's pretty much what jobs are like most of the time too. Even really great jobs that you love.

Posted by: Shawn Lea | Apr 23, 2006 5:57:15 PM

Honest, you.

Posted by: Mb | Apr 23, 2006 4:51:13 PM

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