13 Ways to Banish Workplace Boredom

I’m reading Pierre Burton’s The Arctic Grail, recounting the numerous historic attempts by 19th Century explorers to discover a northwest passage through Arctic waters north of Canada. During these explorations ships routinely had to overwinter in the sea ice in brutal conditions, and while the crews faced numerous threats, from scurvy to starvation to hypothermia, one threat they encountered may also be taking a bite of employee engagement in your company – boredom.

Commanders of many of these sailing vessels understood that when you’re trapped for seven or eight months in the Arctic, in cramped corners with a possibility of death or illness ever-present, boredom had to be avoided at all costs. A bored crew would easily become disillusioned and restless, and would more likely than not turn their collective boredom into frustration leading to mutiny, something that ship captains obviously try to avoid. Especially in the Arctic. So wise leaders planned carefully for the winter months by bringing along a huge assortment of books, planning daily routines, organizing contests, creating work projects, and even planning theatrical shows to entertain the crew members.

Now I would never suggest your workplace has anything remotely in common with the hardships these brave men went through, but according to a study by the University of South Florida, cited in the book On Fire at Work by Eric Chester, boredom in any-present day workplace can be incredibly destructive to a workplace culture. The 2012 study found a clear link between boredom and counterproductive behavior. The researchers found six ways that boredom at work could manifest itself in harmful ways:

  • an increase in sabotage
  • abuse of other employees
  • increased horseplay
  • theft
  • withdrawal
  • production deviance (purposely failing at tasks)

The most prevalent of these unsavory six was withdrawal, which led to disengaged workplace habits such as phoning in sick, showing up for work late, and taking more frequent and longer breaks.

And don’t for a moment think that boredom is only something that might afflict your already poor-performing teammates or employees. Your high-performing star employees are just as likely to succumb to boredom and restlessness, only instead of acting out in negative ways they’ll just abandon ship altogether and look for career opportunities that are more creative and challenging.

Here are a few key ways to make sure boredom doesn’t cast an icy pall over your workplace:

  1. Continually look for opportunities to inject some novel fun into your workplace. And no, your job isn’t to entertain employees, but remember that an inspiring, fun culture doesn’t just stave of boredom, it’s also a proven way to spark creativity and drive productivity. Rituals, fun traditions, contests and social events that everyone can look forward to is just one way to keep employees engaged for the long haul.
  2. Be careful about boxing people in with stifling job descriptions that might lead to a “it’s not in my job description” mindset and limits your options when it comes to expanding an employee’s role or job crafting a more interesting approach to work.
  3. Remember that diversity isn’t just the spice of life – it’s a potent way to combat boredom at work.  Meeting in different locations, mixing up how you reward and recognize employees, and creating opportunities for employees to try their hand at different roles can help create a more engaging, challenging workplace.
  4. Look for telltale signs of boredom setting in and talk to employees before it reaches a critical point.
  5. Offer training opportunities that will allow employees to learn new things and take on greater responsibilities.
  6. Offer opportunities for employees to take on mentoring, training or other leadership roles.
  7. Have open and frequent discussions about work goals and scheduling to make sure their work is challenging enough without being overwhelming.
  8. Cut right to the chase: Ask employees if they are bored with their work and ask them for their ideas on what might rekindle their enthusiasm.
  9. Look for opportunities for employees to serve on task forces or committees.
  10. Consider how job swap days or job shadowing days might help engage employees in meaningful ways.
  11. Connect employees to a greater sense of purpose. It’s more difficult to feel bored when you are reminded of the purpose of your work and the impact your job has on others. Hospital cleaners who understand how their jobs impact the health and wellness of patients and how their social interactions with patients can make a difference report being far happier and less bored in their work. When a buffet-style restaurant installed two-way video monitors so the chefs could see their customers’ reactions to the food they were preparing, engagement scores went up, feelings of tediousness declined. Purpose drives engagement, and a lack of purpose in one’s work can quickly lead to a slow death march toward apathy and boredom.
  12. Find the right balance between total autonomy on the one extreme and micro-managing on the other end. Employees who don’t demonstrate a lot of initiative and who require a lot of direction and guidance will quickly slip into boredom when left unattended, whereas a  person who feels their every move is constrained and who feels they have no latitude for creativity because of a rigid micro manager will feel trapped and eventually bored in their job.
  13. Ask for regular feedback and ideas from everyone. Remind everyone that in addition to doing their jobs that you also pay them to think and contribute to the future success of your company. It’s harder to get bored with your work when you feel as though you have a meaningful say in how things are done, when your opinion is truly valued, and when you adopt a continuous improvement mindset.

What am I missing? What works for you? What has your workplace done to make sure boredom doesn’t seep into your workplace culture?

Michael Kerr, 2017.  Michael Kerr is an international Hall of Fame business speaker, business trainer, very funny motivational speaker, and the author of six books, including Inspiring Workplaces and The Humor Advantage:Why Some Businesses Are Laughing All the Way to the Bank.  www.mikekerr.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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