Why Your Organization Should be Worried About Boredom

We’ve all experienced episodes of boredom at work. Yet, we rarely consider the potential consequences for both individuals and organizations.

In most cases, we are unaware of its presence. However, boredom certainly does occur — even in the most enduring, established organizations.

As such, I’d like to pose a question to managers and team leaders: Is boredom an operating factor among your team members? Because the rub is this — if your employees suffer from frequent boredom, they are likely underutilized. If they are underutilized they are likely disengaged. Yes — we could argue, that time for the mind to rest and wander can be positive (shown to augment creativity.) However, there are limits to this dynamic in office environments. We need to be vigilant concerning potential negative outcomes, such as decreased job satisfaction, engagement and intention to turnover.

Boredom can be hindering team effectiveness — because of our own lack of attention.

What it is
Fisher (1991) describes boredom as “a transient affective state in which the individual feels a pervasive lack of interest in the current activity”. (More background on the definition of boredom and its components here.) To be complete, we cannot singularly blame task or environment — as individual needs and motivation also play a role. This does leave us with the responsibility to employ strategies that bring boredom into focus.

What to do:

  • Open the conversation. You’ll need to open the conversation and assess its presence. How often does an employee feel bored? When does this occur? (See a newly developed measure of workplace boredom here.) It’s unlikely that your highly recruited professional will suffer through extended periods of boredom. They will likely move on to greener (and more stimulating) pastures. Some will come forward to ask for more challenging work and stay — others will take a look around to size up the possibilities or circulate their resumes.
  • Attack boredom with challenging work. Research has shown, that among college graduates, boredom is linked to a lack of challenge. No role offers the opportunity for non-stop excitement. However, we should aim for a mix of tasks that “balance the scorecard” and offer team members a chance to feel engaged. Open the conversation concerning what the individual is receiving in terms of challenge and skill development. Include tasks that might off-set boredom.
  • Manage down time. As we all know, most roles have an inherent level of work load variability — where down time is a common period to report boredom. But, this is time that could be put to good use. Discuss how slow periods could be used for challenges that might engage the individual, while providing benefit your organization. Have a list of projects handy for these periods.
  • Reinvent or replace. I’ve seen many a report, task or process which breeds boredom, and ultimately has limited value for the customer or client in its present form. This translates into rote tasks that serve no one. Discuss with your team members how outcome deliverables could be enhanced. Extend the challenge for your team to do so.

How have you addressed boredom at work? What did you do? Share your strategies.

A version of this post was first published on LinkedIn Pulse on Jan 13, 2016