Skip to main content

Is Workplace Boredom the Biggest Stress Of All?

You'd think having too much on our proverbial work plates would be enough to totally stress us out, but new research tells us that being bored out of our gourds at work can be even worse than being too busy. Hmm. Let's pull ourselves away from our awesome mid-morning daydreams to think about it.

University of Central Lancashire psychology professor Sandi Mann tells us that boredom on the job is second only to anger as the most common emotion at work. Professionally, we're living on a Likert Scale from extremely angry to extremely bored, with the bell curve trending toward extremely bored.

I'm not sure where the margin of error lies in all of this, but Mann believes our jobs are getting more and more boring, thanks to technological advancements, bureaucracy, too many useless meetings, the night shift, and our modern-day, crazy-making tendency toward "self-actualization," e.g., thinking we have so much control over our lives that we can set our career goals incredibly high and on such a strict deadline as to make them virtually unobtainable in the way we've envisioned them. I will be married with kids AND living on a 500-acre estate AND be the CEO of a multinational corporation by age 35 AND be a best-selling author with washboard abs AND everyone will know who I am AND they'll think I'm totally awesome, all the time. Phew. Someone was given way too many undeserved trophies as a kid, or has overbearing parents. Or both.

Anyway, Mann think boredom "is as stressful as stress" and that companies are terrified to admit that their employees might be bored. Companies, however, might want to admit it because employees are busy getting back at them in underhanded and non-productive ways from sabotage, theft, withdrawal and horseplay to abusing everyone and participating in something called "production deviance," otherwise known as failing on purpose, according to separate research conducted at Montclair State University and University of South Florida.

You don't need me to tell you what a productivity drain "production deviance" could be. Plus, the phrase contains the word "deviance," so we know it's bad. When employees are bored, their minds can wander, and not always to good things. Don't let their glassy-eyed stares and all the blatant clock watching give them away, either.

The part of this research that fascinates me most, however, is the sense of "existential boredom" that's apparently plaguing today's service firms. Essentially, "existential boredom" is the feeling that one's work isn't worthwhile because there's nothing real about it. One is simply sending emails, texting, IMing, pushing papers, and talking about everything in the abstract through 12-point type. Zzzzz. There's no there there, nothing tangible, no real product to see or touch or to give us a real and regular sense of accomplishment anymore. Providing "solutions" isn't solving the problem of workplace ennui; in fact, it's making it worse. Go ahead and add employee boredom to the list of reasons why the United States should start manufacturing real products again.

Of course, impatient, tech-obsessed employees need to learn how to manage their downtime, and boredom isn't always bad, especially for today's kids. Boredom, if you know how to harness it, can actually lead to sudden bursts of creativity. I once wrote an entire workplace column about dealing with downtime, a story idea that came to me as I sitting in my home office one day caught up on work and vaguely stressed out because I was bored and couldn't decide how to spend my last hour of work time before the babysitter left. I think many of my best ideas and life decisions have resulted from dawdling in the doldrums. So become one with your boredom. Embrace it. Endure it. Navigate it. Use it to your advantage.

Employers, meanwhile, should constantly ponder new ways to give employees better projects, promotions, training days, in-depth feedback, something to look forward to every day, and a shared sense of purpose that's bigger than themselves. Yes, this will take a lot of work, but on the upside no one will get bored trying to figure it all out.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Seven tips for dealing with a jealous coworker

Look at you, doing so well at work! We're so happy for you. Well, most of us are happy for you and refuse to spend the entire work day talking behind your back. Let's talk about how to handle our jealous co-workers!Like every other professional, you've no doubt experienced your share of failures and successes. Lately, however, things seem to be going your way at work. And how! Perhaps you've managed to ace an important project this quarter, been instrumental in landing a huge client, earned some well-deserved rewards for this and that, or -- egads! -- been given a slight promotion or additional work responsibilities (e.g., the work responsibilities you actually want).You're quietly chuffed, but somehow your co-workers seem none too pleased with this rapid turn of events. Oh no, what should you do now?It's a workplace tale older than the disjointed last season of Mad Men. The playing field in the department was even, cozy and overall very friendly -- until so-an…

Employees Blame Technology For Slowing Them Down At Work

Do you feel like you're always working, but never getting very much done? If so, you're not alone. Too much technology, and too much red tape, keep slowing us down at work. But technology, and more of it, is supposed to make our lives easier! Too much technology, however, does not compute for employees. A new SAP/Knowledge@Wharton survey of almost 700 corporate employees finds a full 60% of respondents blame technology "for inhibiting their ability to meet strategic goals." Gee, anyone who has ever used the self-checkout line at the grocery store can tell you that. However, 40% surveyed said that looking for ways to simplify the technology has been "a low priority" for their company. Too much paperwork is an on-going problem for the workplace, too. A new ServiceNow survey of nearly 1,000 managers finds that 90% are doing too much administrative work, no matter the size of the company. This paperwork includes filling out forms, writing status updates, …

Is Your Co-worker Always Late For Work?

You've started the workday, but where is your co-worker? Oh, she's running late again, just like yesterday. And the day before. And the day before that. Let's get an early start on solving her tardiness problem, shall we? Working with someone who is consistently late is one of the most annoying aspects of office life, and also one of the most common, unfortunately. It's a universal theme of the workplace that everyone will get to work on time (give or take a few minutes...) except for the employee who is egregiously late nearly every day. And the excuses can get pretty amazing. Employees became more punctual as the Great Recession lingered, at least according to surveys. Everyone, that is, except for your able-bodied but habitually-tardy co-worker. It's bad enough dealing with tardiness when you're a manager, but it can be even more frustrating when you're a rank-and-file peer without any magical "shape up or ship out" managerial powers. So you…