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:
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:
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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