iStock_000019604683XSmallA real challenge for any manager is managing workplace boredom. The very words sound like an insult. It is easy to view employee boredom as a commentary on your leadership. The mantra of the American work ethic is “always appear busy.” Failing to do so could lead to more work or no job. Employees want to hold on, grab on, or lean on anything that will keep them out of the unemployment line. Who can blame them?

Workplace boredom typically happens when people lose their passion for their work, become entangled in numbing non-productive routines, or lack sufficient challenge. It rarely has anything to do with busyness.

Many employees fear having to admit their bored to their boss. The word boredom is usually equated with lacking things to do. Therefore, a common solution to managing employee boredom is to delegate more duties. The answer for many managers is to keep their employees so busy that they don’t have time to feel bored. This is unfortunate because it robs the employee of achieving their best work and the organization from capturing their full contribution.

Companies appear eager to find and eliminate cost that does not drive bottom line results. Yet, a bored employee, with a self-preserving attitude, cannot fully contribute to the bottom line results. Consider how the following signs of boredom limit organizational results.

  • Withholding information to position themselves as being indispensable to the organization.
  • Taking non-direct routes back to their workspace when returning from a lunch or break.
  • Excessive use of texting or phone calls with family or friends (obviously difficult to determine and manage.)
  • Frequent absences from their workspace or a lack of engagement in teamwork.
  • Excessive complaining about things they cannot directly change.

Each of these behaviors detracts from a culture of success and does exponential damage. Therefore, it should be easy to see why managing workplace boredom is a crucial responsibility for every manager.

In general, there are three approaches to managing employee boredom. Which one sounds the most promising?

  1. Add more work to bored employee’s workload. Busy hands are happy hands. If employees have enough to do, they will not have time to feel bored. They will get more done if they are working and everyone will be happy in the end.
  2. Provide something that will encourage non-boredom. This includes everything imaginable that is done by others to motivate better behavior. Some of the most common are providing better working environments, creating special days that are fun or entertaining, more training, more affirmation, clearer goals, better alignment, etc.
  3. Provide opportunities that are self-motivating and intellectually challenging. Help your employees by determine their personal motivations and create a culture that allows them to solve issues or create better ways to accomplish organizational objectives.

Admittedly, each approach has merit on its own. The easy response is to do all three to one degree or another depending upon the circumstance or person. If you had to pick one approach, which would you choose? Why would you choose it? Here is my short response.

Number three holds the best promise to combat boredom. It respects each employee because you take their motivations, ideas, and competencies into account. It promotes initiative by allowing creativity. It encourages enthusiasm because it gives a sense of freedom.

Option number one only works when employees truly love what they do and simply need more of it. Studies show far more people dislike their job than love it.

Option two puts the burden on the manager, not the employee. While there are inherent benefits to providing the best work environment possible, it is impossible to meet every need that will make an employee happy.

Managing employee boredom should not be viewed or interpreted as a personal insult, but a challenge. Creating a workplace culture that encourages intrinsic motivation and requires intellectual challenge will always produce the best results for the employee, manager, and the organization. It may be difficult to initially identify a bored employee. They have become experts at hiding it.

What do you believe is the best approach to managing workplace boredom?

Managing Workplace Boredom
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