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Five Ways to Overcome Boredom at Work - and Anywhere Else

Posted at 10:09 AM on Friday, July 25, 2008

I recently heard that July is Anti-boredom month which got me thinking about boredom. While I rarely if ever experience it myself, I know it can be a problem for people and even impacts the workplace (solitaire on the computer anyone?). All that pondering led me to write to this ...

"I'm bored" is a phrase parents often hear, especially as summer vacation from school moves past the four week mark. Kids who couldn't wait to get out of school, suddenly find themselves bored with the very thing that been looking forward to for months.

Yet boredom is felt by more than just children. Consider these statistics:

- 55 percent of all US employees were found to be 'not engaged' in their work in a Gallup Survey reported in the Washington Post (10 August 2005).

- 24 percent of office employees surveyed by Office Angels claimed that boredom caused them to rethink their career and look for alternative jobs (reported in The Guardian, 20 January 2003).

- A third of Britons claim to be bored at work for most of the day (DDI survey Faking It, 2004).

- Nearly 45 percent of hiring experts in a 1998 survey said firms lost top workers because they were bored with their jobs (Steinauer, 1999).

A Definition

Dictionary.com defines boredom as: "the state of being bored: tedium; ennui." Perhaps as instructive are the synonyms (dullness, doldrums, weariness) and the antonyms (excitement, diversion, amusement).

Boredom is often described as feeling tired, weary or unengaged. Some components of boredom include:
  • Fatigue
  • Dissatisfaction
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability

Clearly if we or others are experiencing feelings of boredom at work (the research says that if you aren’t bored someone you work with is), this will have a negative impact on retention, job satisfaction, work quality and overall productivity.

Solutions

Consider these solutions a partial list - there are many other specific solutions, especially if you consider boredom outside of work. But acting on even one of these steps can have a significant, perhaps permanent, impact on boredom and its associated problems. Additionally, consider the specific ideas mentioned that you can employ as a leader to help others apply that idea.

  1. Look for Meaning. When you know how your work matters to other people (internal and external Clients, your team, perhaps even society at large) you are less likely to be disengaged or bored. As an individual, look for ways to understand how your work matters. As a leader, make sure people see a clear linkage between their work and the team, department and organizational goals. Help people put a face on their Clients. Give people work they see as making a difference. When people see how what they do impacts others positively, boredom will be greatly reduced, if not eliminated.

  2. Be curious. Active minds are less likely to be bored. When we are actively curious our minds will keep moving! As a leader you can encourage curiosity and creativity by giving people some latitude in their job responsibilities and expectations. Give people time and resources to work on special projects of interest to them and that match with their natural skills.

  3. Make it memorable. When tasks seem mundane, ordinary or routine, boredom can gain a foothold. Find ways to make your work more memorable by readjusting your routine or trying something new. Try your work in a new location or from a new perspective. As a leader allow some flexibility in this area if possible. Encourage your team to try for a new record, to work with different people or to spice up their work or work environment in other ways.

  4. Take action. Boredom often is partnered with feeling tired or lethargic. The best cure for the blahs is to take action! Get started on a new goal, take a step on an existing goal or learn something new. As you take action on anything, boredom will recede. As leaders provide or help people set meaningful and challenging goals, boredom will subside too. If people on your team can get their work done in less than their full allotment of hours, challenge them with something extra that is meaningful both to those people and to your organizational objectives. This could be an exciting project, a learning opportunity, mentoring a new colleague, anything really as long as the person is excited to be doing it and not feeling like you’re just adding more work.

  5. Focus on others. Boredom rarely sets in when you are focused on someone other than yourself. Think of things you can do to make a difference in the lives of others. In your personal life that could be serving as a volunteer or doing something for a neighbor, friend or family member. At work it could be as simple as offering to help on a project. As a leader, it can be as simple as encouraging people to help others. Recognize too that as you help people see more meaning in their work, you are helping them take the focus off of themselves as well.

Even if you don't often experience boredom personally, adding more of these solutions into your work will elevate your attitude and improve your productivity. Consider the leadership ideas as ways that you can help others, regardless of your role and relationship to them.

Potential Pointer: Boredom can have a massive impact on job satisfaction, energy and productivity. Decrease boredom by proactively reducing its causes - make work more meaningful, be curious, make work memorable, take action and focus on the needs of others.
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