Battling boredom at work

A new survey indicates workers are bored more than 10 hours per week. What can employees do to bid boredom bye-bye, and how can managers keep workers engaged?

If you’ve ever had a case of the blahs at work, you’re not alone.

According to a new survey from staffing firm OfficeTeam, professionals admit they’re bored in the office an average of 10.5 hours per week. That’s more than a full day a week, or the equivalent of 68 days a year. Senior managers interviewed acknowledged the doldrums do exist but were more optimistic, estimating their staff is likely disinterested only about six hours each week.

That’s not the only disconnect between managers and their employees. Nearly four in 10 senior managers (39%) think staff have too much work on their plates. However, more than a quarter of employees (27%) report that the main reason boredom strikes is because there isn’t enough to do. Others don’t feel challenged by their assignments (19%), say the work is uninteresting (18%), or point to too many or poorly executed meetings (17%).

Regardless of the reasons for boredom at work, it does exist and there are steps both employees and managers can take to mitigate it.

Bursting the boredom bubble

First off, the award, if you can call it that, for the least engaged workers goes to young men. According to the OfficeTeam survey, men and those ages 18–34 are bored the most per week — 12 hours and 14 hours, respectively. These two groups are also most likely to leave their position if bored.

Basking in boredom

Being bored at work can sometimes inspire a special kind of “productivity.” Following are 20 things people report doing at work when they’re bored, as told to staffing firm Robert Half.

  • “Have rubber band battles with co-workers.”
  • “Make grocery lists and cut coupons.”
  • “Learn another language.”
  • “Do crossword puzzles.”
  • “Play ping pong.”
  • “Doodle.”
  • “Make videos.”
  • “Pay bills.”
  • “Watch TV or movies online.”
  • “Work on the book I’m writing.”
  • “Play online games.”
  • “Daydream.”
  • “Act like I'm interested in the work and meetings.”
  • “Clean my desk.”
  • “Ask for more work.”
  • “Look for other jobs.”
  • “Eat snacks.”
  • “Browse the internet.”
  • “Chat with co-workers.”
  • “Check social media.”

Workers can be bored for various reasons, including not having enough work, uninteresting assignments, too many meetings, and not enjoyable interactions with their co-workers, notes Sasha Truckenbrod, branch manager of OfficeTeam in Madison.

“Not feeling challenged by assignments means the projects aren’t encouraging them to think outside the box or put their abilities to the test,” says Truckenbrod. “If the nature of the work isn’t interesting, the employee might not like what they’re doing on a daily basis. Tasks and responsibilities may be too mundane to be enjoyable.”

According to Truckenbrod, while 45% of employees are equally bored throughout the year, another 28% said work is most tedious during winter. At many companies, workloads become lighter around the holidays, which can lead to boredom. As thoughts turn to vacations and family activities during the last few months of the year, work can seem a little less exciting, she notes. “People start thinking about goals and resolutions at the beginning of the year, which can lead to reflections about whether career advancement and progress have been made. The cold weather and days becoming shorter can also contribute to workers’ overall moods.”

Managers may think employees are bored occasionally, but it’s hard for them to track just how often they’re disinterested, Truckenbrod adds. Because those in leadership roles are busier than ever, they may not always have the time to check in on their staff and may assume employees are just as engaged as they are in their work.

Truckenbrod offers the following tips for managers to improve employee engagement:

  • Regularly check in with employees to ensure they’re engaged and happy.
  • Encourage staff to take on new responsibilities and projects, particularly ones that challenge them, help them build new skills, and are in line with their career goals.
  • Actively seek feedback from team members. Maintain an open-door policy and an open mind. Reach out to those who may be uncomfortable voicing their thoughts to ensure their ideas are heard.
  • Offer training programs, mentoring, and tuition assistance so professionals can improve their abilities and advance in their careers.
  • Recognize staff and provide rewards.
  • Remind workers to take regular breaks to recharge.
  • Infuse fun into the workplace whenever possible. This could include celebrating holidays/events, coordinating group activities, occasionally catering lunch, etc.



Boredom isn’t always bad

“Sometimes new ideas are formed when you’re tired of doing something the same old way or have time to reflect,” notes Truckenbrod. “However, while we could all use time to recharge here and there, chronic boredom can eat up huge chunks of time. After all, employees are ultimately at work to be productive and get things done.”

So, what should employees do if they’re bored at work? Take action:

  • Find out if colleagues could use a hand with anything.
  • Talk to your boss about working on more challenging and interesting assignments.
  • Get organized and prep for upcoming projects.
  • Take courses that help with your professional development.

Chronic boredom can also be a sign that it’s time to move on and seek new opportunities. “All of us get bored in our jobs at some point,” says Truckenbrod. “However, sometimes it’s simply time to look for a new one.”

According to Truckenbrod, if employees have had conversations with their managers and have done what they can to improve the situation, but the passion’s still lacking and boredom is consistent, it may be time for some self-reflection. However, she cautions employees to think hard about whether there’s something else they’d rather be doing before taking drastic action and quitting impulsively.

For managers wondering if an employee might be on the way out the door, some signs that employees are looking to jump ship include:

  • Disengagement and behavioral changes;
  • Calling in sick or taking time off more often;
  • Making more mistakes or a decrease in productivity;
  • Sudden interest in career development;
  • Asking for information on previous projects;
  • Decreased interaction/less social; or
  • A new, more formal wardrobe.

Truckenbrod notes well-meaning managers should be wary of offering what amounts to busy work to employees showing signs of boredom. That will only cause employees to further disengage. Instead of offering busy work, there are a number of ways for managers to increase employee engagement:

  • Keep them out of the dark.
  • Clearly define your expectations.
  • Don’t sugarcoat unpleasant assignments.
  • Be consistent.
  • Set a good example.
  • Ask for input.
  • Show you care.
  • Reward creativity.
  • Break out of comfort zones.
  • Offer training.
  • Discuss career aspirations.
  • Promote from within.
  • Criticize constructively.
  • Offer a helping hand.
  • Provide rewards.
  • Be liberal with praise.
  • Give them a break.
  • Say “no” tactfully.
  • Keep an eye on salaries.
  • Help staff achieve work/life balance.
  • Create a place where people want to work.
  • Be stingy with meetings.
  • Get out of the office.
  • Recognize the signs of low morale.
  • Learn from those on the way out.

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