Here’s an interesting paradox for you: Boredom may be the biggest cause of burnout.
Consider the times in your life when it has been most difficult, on a regular basis, to pull yourself out of bed in the morning. It’s very likely that those were periods when you have boredom breathing down your back-;not when you’re being challenged by a long list of daunting projects.
Boredom is an equal-opportunity plague. It can strike in the highest levels of management as well as among entry-level minimum-wage workers. However, according to some 2013 Gallup research, well-educated, middle-aged workers are the most at risk. Worse yet, Gallup found that only 30 percent of American workers were “engaged” in their positions. The rest were divided between “not engaged” (52 percent) and “actively disengaged” (18 percent).
Boredom is a productivity killer. Not only do bored workers produce less, they are far more prone to errors, and some even engage in active sabotage. Hey, they have to do something that interests them!
However, I suggest we see this not as some hand-wringing scourge on the American workforce, but as an opportunity to greatly increase productivity with very little capital investment. All we have to do is challenge, motivate, and energize our workforce, and the resultant boost in creativity and productivity should be something to behold. Changing the business culture that seems to be fostering boredom requires a variety of steps, both big and small.
- Foster better communication. Do you have a workplace where an employee can approach a manager and say, “I’m bored, I need more to do”? Many employees are afraid to say that they are underutilized, fearing they will be fired. Let your employees know that if they have time on their hands, you have important things that need to be done. Reward suggestions that increase productivity.
- Be more flexible. Rigid walls between “job descriptions” are productivity killers and boredom creators. We all have stereotypical images of union workers who will sit idle rather than pick up a hammer because it’s against union rules. Don’t let that kind of mentality creep into your workplace. Cross-train employees. Let employees see tasks all the way through to their completion. Don’t unnecessarily “assembly line” the workflow.
- Meet less. Hold fewer meetings, or dramatically slash the time spent in meetings. Make meetings interesting, focused, and relevant. National Public Radio recently ran a fascinating piece on holding meetings standing up. When Washington University’s Olin Business School, Andrew Knight, and Markus Bear tested standing meetings, they found that participants were more open and less territorial. That should lead to greater creativity and more engagement.
- Broaden horizons. Give your employees opportunities to learn more advanced skills and develop a deeper comprehension of your industry. See this as preparing your workforce for the growth of your company; adopt the idea of “if you build it, they will come.”
- Mix it up. Perform random acts of energizing. Break up the routine in fun and exciting ways. Bring in food. Get out of the office. Declare Halloween in August. What you do isn’t as important as the message the activities send: You want your employees to have a positive attitude about their work and workplace.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com or Visa.