A new study on boredom should give managers more information to consider when looking at employee performance. A recent study is challenging the traditional belief that boredom at work only results from monotony.
Boredom, which results in decreased efficiency at work, can occur when employees feel their their work lacks meaning, or if they are facing constant time pressure, control, or interruptions. The study, carried out by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (FIOH), consisted of interviews of sales, administrative, banking, care, and support workers.
Inertia, acceleration and disrupted work all create boredom
The study found three types of boredom, characterized by different experiences of time. The first type is depicted by a feeling of inertia: when the work they are doing is not meeting the worker’s expectations, it has become a boring routine or the tasks are not sufficiently challenging.
The second type of boredom is defined by an experience of acceleration: The worker has too much work, or considers the goals set for the work unrealistic.
The third type concerns disrupted work rhythm, which results from different obstacles or restrictions to performing work in a meaningful way, such as bureaucracy or control that is seen as unnecessary, problems in the work community or distribution of work, or continuous interruptions to the flow of one’s work.
The study reveals that the reasons for and the forms of experiencing boredom are diverse. A person can become bored at work even if the work is personally meaningful, if they cannot perform it in a meaningful way. All three types of boredom were connected to the underutilization of a worker’s capacity. Workers were not able to maximize their skills, or these skills were inefficiently channelled.
Boredom can affect job performance and the bottom line
”Although occasional feelings of boredom are common and harmless, we should still be aware of them, and be careful that they do not become dominant or permanent. Constant boredom eats away at well-being, and often remains hidden because the bored person is physically, but not mentally, present,” says Lotta Harju from FIOH. “In the worst case, this can lead to a waste of resources, which causes the whole organization, as well as the worker, to suffer.”
Any organization that is battling with continuously diminishing resources needs to sit up and take notice, say the researchers. It is high time that organizations update their workers’ opportunities to make use of their know-how and the work community’s resources.
”Bored workers become passive, because they cannot use their skills to their full potential. Stress increases, work ability and productivity decrease. Thoughts of looking for a new job or taking early retirement become more frequent,” reminds Harju.
If your employees are underperforming, this information may give you the start of a conversation about how to engage them more at work. Maybe by demonstrating that the company does value their contributions, setting more realistic expectations for weekly or monthly goals, or by removing bureaucratic hurdles that make employees jump through unnecessary hoops and lead to frustration you can get more out of your employees. Communication is key to addressing these problems.