“Only boring people get bored.” Ever heard that one before? If it’s true, then few of us could be considered interesting people. Gallup research shows that two-thirds (66%) of US employees feel disengaged at work—a figure that’s even higher (85%) internationally.
Boring people of the world, unite!
…Or not. It’s hard to rally around being bored or being boring. Disengagement saps us of energy, motivation, and curiosity. It leaves us feeling exhausted and, over time, isolated and resentful. A bored employee starts to wonder: “Why is my work so dull? Who would create such a tedious job?”
The answer, it turns out, is a bored manager. A recent study, titled “Poor Work Design Begets Poor Work Design,” reveals that people with low autonomy in their own jobs tend to create similar circumstances for others. Ironically, those who design boring jobs can get pretty creative with it. They often make work routines even duller than they need to be—and then some. The researchers write in the Harvard Business Review (emphasis added):
“We invited managers and professionals from human-services industries (organizational psychologists, safety managers, health and safety inspectors) to participate in two online simulations. In the first simulation, participants had to design a job. They were presented with a half-time clerical job made up entirely of photocopying and filing tasks. We then asked them to make it a full-time job by selecting additional tasks from a list and adding them to the current role. Participants could make the job extremely repetitive by adding even more photocopying and filing tasks, or they could make the job more meaningful and interesting by adding tasks such as greeting visitors, or helping with a quality improvement project. They were told that all the tasks were relevant, that the clerk was capable of doing them all, and that the job would be a permanent one.
A surprising finding (especially given that we deliberately focused on human service managers and professionals) was that almost half (45%) of the participants designed the job to be even more boring, composed of doing almost entirely photocopying and filing tasks, eight hours a day.”
How can organizations design better dobs and improve employee engagement? Not through radical acceptance of our common boringness, but by disrupting their own inclinations and negative habits. The researchers suggest the following:
- Recognize the importance of well-designed work—from all perspectives.
- Train managers and other relevant professionals.
- Beware of self-perpetuating cycles.
- Discuss work design in performance reviews.
- Involve experts where necessary.
People who are sick of feeling bored, unite. It’s time to treat workplace boredom—that is, employee disengagement—as the crisis it is. Disengagement impacts everything from productivity to turnover to job safety. In other words, we can’t afford to be bored.