How to Tell If Your Employees Are Bored
Sometimes your best employee leaves because he wants to move somewhere sunny or because his wife got a new gig on the other side of the country. Sometimes that uber productive engineer can’t resist the lure of her own startup or your communications ace has decided he wants to be a yoga instructor instead.
When it comes to reasons like these, there’s very little you can do to keep the team you’ve sweated to put together intact. But most employees don’t leave for reasons like these. Many employees leave simply because they’re bored.
And if you let them, know you could probably have prevented their aggravating departure with just a little bit of attention and care, writes Silicon Valley engineering manager and author Michael Lopp on his blog.
In the excellent post, Lopp points out the simple but powerful truth that "boredom shows up quietly and appears to pose no immediate threat. This makes it both easy to address and easy to ignore" before going on to offer a simple three-pronged approach to early detection of employee boredom:
Any noticeable change in daily routine. A decrease in productivity is a great early sign that something’s up, but what you are looking for is any change in their routine. Increased snark? Unexpected vacations? Later arrivals? Earlier departures? Anything that strikes you as out of the ordinary for someone whose day you are familiar with is worth considering. The root cause of this change may have nothing to do with boredom, and the best way is figure that out is…
You ask, "Are you bored?" Even if you don’t have a gut feeling, it’s a good question to randomly ask your team. When I ask, I look you straight in the eyes and if you can’t stare me in the face and answer, I’m going to keep digging until you look me in the eye. Remember, the goal here is to discover boredom before they know it, and the act of a simple question might be just the mental impetus they need to see the early signs in themselves.
They tell you. And you listen. The reality is that someone is going to tell you they’re bored quietly and when you least expect it. They’ll tell you halfway through your 1:1 and they won’t use the word bored. They’ll say something innocuous like, “…and I really don’t know what to do next,” and you’re going to blow right by the most important thing they’ve said in a while because you’re worried about your next meeting.
While these techniques might not sound like earth-shattering innovations, as Lopp points out at the end of the third point, just because something is simple and effective, doesn’t mean you’re not too distracted to actually do it. So what if you pause long enough to ponder whether your team is bored and listen to what they’re actually saying about their level of engagement and come to the uncomfortable conclusion that these days they’re not exactly finding their work scintillating?
Lopp’s post has suggestions. A half dozen solid ones, in fact. They range from letting bored employees experiment to aggressively removing the noise from their workday and simply "telling them what the hell is going on." Check out the post for details.
Are you "too busy" to stop and notice your top performers’ boredom level?
JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist
Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.