Banning boredom at work: everything you need to know

boredom at work

It’s official: boredom at work is costing you.

A recent study found that 43 per cent of office workers are bored at work – a problematic stat, considering that boredom at work can cause a serious dip in employee engagement, morale, and productivity. The same research also found that employees who feel bored at work are more than twice as likely to leave their jobs. As blogger and Slack VP Michael Lopp (a.k.a. Rands) succinctly put it: “bored people quit.”

So, what can you do about it? The answer has less to do with bringing in ping pong tables and beer carts, and everything to do with engaging your employees’ minds and boosting their creativity.

Here’s everything you need to know about addressing boredom at work.

Find out who’s bored

This first step is easier said than done. Employees are eager to look productive and engaged, even when they’re seriously considering moving to a new company. However, there are things to look out for, some of them subtle (a minor change in their routine or general attitude), and some more obvious (a major shift in work output). April Salsbury of consultancy firm Salsbury & Co., suggests looking out for these signs, among others:

– Changes in routine, like arriving late or departing early, and taking more sick days.
– An increasingly negative attitude.
– More time spent on time killers, like social media.
– Rushing through projects or doing the bare minimum amount of work.
– Lack of interest in work events outside core business hours.
– Increased distractibility and inability to focus.

Lopp also has some advice on how to detect boredom at work:

The reality is that someone is going to tell you they’re bored quietly and when you least expect it. They’ll tell you halfway through your 1:1 and they won’t use the word bored. They’ll say something innocuous like, ‘…and I really don’t know what to do next,’ and you’re going to blow right by the most important thing they’ve said in a while because you’re worried about your next meeting.”

In short: look for the signs and ask the right questions to get real with your employees about all the challenges they’re facing at work – including boredom.

Figure out what needs to change

The biggest contributors to workplace boredom are a lack of opportunity to learn new skills, and unchallenging work. Think of it as the evolution of the mind: we learn something new, get pretty good at it, and start looking around for something else to do.

As an employer, it’s your job to find ways to help your employees keep learning and growing. Hootsuite, for example, has taken this a step further than most by creating a “stretching” program that lets high-performing employees explore new roles while staying with the company (and in their current jobs). As Hootsuite founder and CEO Ryan Holmes put it:

“Great employees are great employees. It’s not the particular skill set that sets them apart, as much as their intrinsic attitude, focus, and dedication. And all of these things can transfer readily from role to role. So why not give these exceptional employees a chance to try out new positions within the company, rather than risk losing them altogether?”

Check yourself

Whether you realize it or not, you might be suffering from the same affliction as your employees. Managers and business owners and executives get bored, too. Looking at your own engagement is a crucial step in engaging your team – plus, it’s more than likely that your curiosity will jump-start your shift away from boredom.

For example, in 2013, Point-Blank International co-founder Dörte Töllner wrote about how she almost left her own company because she was bored. However, instead of jumping ship (or worse – sticking around but grinding through every day feeling uninspired and unhappy), she took the opportunity to make changes to the overall company culture. Using her own boredom as a barometer for the company’s health, she realized she was dissatisfied with the status quo, and used it as a launching pad for change and growth:

“On the surface nothing was wrong: the company was thriving. That’s probably why it took a while to realize that my personal loss of motivation was merely an early indicator of what we later deciphered as a larger cultural issue.”

Use boredom to your advantage

Boredom at work might be somewhat unavoidable, but it can also be a good thing. The key is to provide opportunities for your team to use their boredom as a launching point for developing (and implementing) new ideas. Boredom at work with no outlet is poison, but transforming it into creativity and change is the antidote. Leverage the creative benefits of boredom by encouraging employees to contribute to your company beyond their day-to-day tasks; have them refine processes, create new offerings, and, in general, make things better. In return, you’ll get employees who are more engaged and feel connected to the company, and are more likely to stay long-term. But you’ll also get to capitalize on all of the amazing ideas they come up with. Double win.

See also:
5 ways to inspire and motivate your employees
Why people quit (and how to prevent it)


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