Do you feel stuck in a mind-numbing job? If so, you’re not alone! A survey has identified that one third of Britons claimed to be bored at work for most of the working day (1).
Burnout often occurs as a result of ongoing stress. The reasons for this stress are sought in many areas: the work itself, the working environment, the personality of the employee and the interaction between the three of them. For example:
- If the position itself is a high-risk one and requires work under constant stress (police officer, doctor or any other helping professional);
- If the environment is too competitive or chaotic or the employer is too demanding and the employee is physically unable to cover the amount of work;
- If the activity is related to continuous deadlines;
- If the person themselves is a high–achiever.
Although all of the above contribute to the awakening of Burnout, there is still a factor which is rarely mentioned and that is monotonous, repetitive and unchallenging work. Despite hating it when we have just finished a task and another one , with a tight deadline, appears on our list – there is one thing we hate even more! That is monotony and work underload, one of the enemies of happiness at work. Monotony leads to boredom (2) and boredom may lead to burnout!
How does boredom reflect on a personal and organizational level?
The available evidence indicates that boredom is mainly associated with negative individual and organisational outcomes. Boredom can give rise to errors and decreased productivity—costly and unnecessary outcomes for consumers, employees, and organizations alike. As a function of boredom, individuals may feel under-employed, and become distracted, stressed or disillusioned. Staff who are bored also are less likely to engage with or focus on their work.
On a personal level boredom has a deactivating effect. When people are bored they experience difficulty sustaining attention (3) and they have off-task thoughts (4, 5). Bored people report low job satisfaction (6), lower quality of life (7) and depression (8). In addition, boredom may have even deeper meaning and could be related to a largely unconscious, enduring experience of the absence of meaning in one‘s (work) life.
Organizations with bored employees may lose benefits, mainly due to their lower job performance (9)
How does boredom reflect on health?
Melamed, Benavi, Luz and Green (10) found that repetitive work was positively associated with elevated blood pressure both in women and men. This literally means that boredom makes you sick!
How to notice if you or your employees are bored?
- Ask yourself if time appears to drag or pass more slowly.
- Be self-reflective about hostility. Repetitive and monotonous work is associated with more of that feeling.
- Check out for low attention, lack of alertness, daydreaming, sleepiness and lowered performance. Don’t forget to look for the opposite symptoms- restlessness and high level of internal arousal.
- Check out the work-related performance: Are there signs of lower performance (accidents, errors, false detection, etc.).
Tips for employees:
If you need to stay on in your present job for now, look for ways to make changes that will help turn boredom into creativity. Research shows that change — whatever it is — improves our mood and productivity. Here are ways to cope with the corporate grind:
Find your own meaning. Finding meaning in your life is important and not a luxury reserved for the lucky few.
Set achievable goals for each day, week and month and plot the steps you are going to take in order to reach them. They can be totally personal or correlated to your work.
Vary your routine. Your brain needs stimulus. Try doing your humdrum tasks in a different way.
If your responsibilities are homogeneous or you have had the same duties for the entire time you have been at the company, ask your boss if you can alter your workload or the kind of work you currently do.
Help out. It can refresh your outlook on work, and the aspects of it that bore you, to involve different people. On upcoming projects, ask colleagues if you can lend a hand.
Very old themes. Inject new thinking into your work. Take something you have already done or your team has already done and see if you can transpose it into a new – or different – medium.
Expand your horizons. Finding subjects or subject areas that inspire you and energize you.
Change the perspective. Try to look at what you and your company are doing as an observer. Think about the difficulties in your job position/in the organization and try to find a solution.
Tips for managers
Determine the positive impact your organization is seeking to make in the world. Warning: You cannot fake purpose. That’s worse than not prioritizing it at all. People can tell the difference, trust me. Then offer purpose to your team! Keep in mind that most people crave purpose at work and that is a good opportunity to provide meaning and fulfillment, thus beat boredom. A study (11) found that “engaged employees are 50% more productive and 33% more profitable. They are also responsible for 56% higher customer loyalty scores and correlated with 44% higher retention rates, leading to great gains in productivity over the long run.” So being fulfilled at work isn’t only an issue of concern for workers but for employers as well.
NB! There is a specific type of worker who enjoys the repetitiveness of their work and does not feel bored. Going out of their comfort zone makes them too anxious. On the contrary, doing repetitive tasks gives them a sense of predictability and makes them feel secure!
Time to self reflect
It is time to ask yourself some questions. No need to place blame on anyone or anything—take a rational look at what has brought you to this point. Be honest with yourself. Maybe some questions appear in your mind, like: What are the reasons for me to feel bored? Is it the job itself, is it the environment, or am I the kind of person that’s never enthusiastic enough? If yes, why is that so?Am I living my own life? Or did I end up in my current job by choice or default? Am I trying to fulfill a promise made to my family or others? Did I choose my job in a different period of my life, for example at the age of 18 in college and now I see the world from a different perspective?
As you ponder these questions, do you think you need more incentives and diversity or is it time for a major life overhaul? Take some time to write down a few short, doable steps to get you started with your intent.
- DDI (2004). Faking it. Development Dimensions International, Research Report. Autumn.
- Richard P. Smith (1981 23: 329). Boredom: A Review. Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. DOI: 10.1177/001872088102300308.
- Damrad-Frye, R. and Laird, J. (1989). The Experience of Boredom: The Role of the Self-Perception of Attention. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,Vol. 57, No. 2,315-320
- McBain, W.N. (1970). Arousal, monotony, and accidents in line driving. Journal of Applied Psychology, 54, 509-519.
- Gardner, D.G., Dunham, R.B., Cummings, L.L. and Pierce, J.L. (1989). Focus of attention at work: construct definition and empirical validation. Journal of Occupational Psychology, 62, 61-77.
- Kass, S.J., Vodanovich, S.J. and Callender, A. (2001). State-trait boredom: relationship to absenteeism, tenure and job satisfaction. Journal of Business and Psychology, 16.
- Watten, R.G., Sykversen, J.L., Myhrer, T. (1995). Quality of life, intelligence and mood. Social Indicators Research, 36.
- Wiesner, M., Windle, M. and Freeman, A. (2005). Work stress, substance use, and depression among young adult workers: an examination of main and moderator effect models. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 10, 83-96.
- O’Hanlon, J.F. (1981). Boredom: practical consequences and a theory. Acta Psychological, 4
- Melamed, S., Benavi, I., Luz, J. and Green, M.S. (1995b.). Repetitive work, work underload and coronary heart-disease risk-factors among blue-collar workers – the Cordis Study. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 80, 19-29.
- Koloc, N. (2013). What Job Candidates Really Want: Meaningful Work. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2013/04/what-job-candidates-really-want.