Thursday, March 19, 2009

Boredom at Work

Some maintain that boredom is a vehicle to creativity. Some, would argue that in work environments where creativity isn't fostered, boredom spreads like dandelions in a Spring lawn.

Whatever your own take on the issue is, the truth is that at one point or another boredom at work affects us all. Nobody is immune.

You know what I am talking about.

The days when time just doesn't pass fast enough to get away from work, the days when our neurons need Drano to let one squalid thought get through, when our eyes are like magnets to any time telling device, and our fingers are Velcro on your car keys.

Probably the difference between man and the monkeys is that the monkeys are merely bored, while man has boredom plus imagination. Lin Yutang.

Psychologist Stephen Vodanovich of the University of West Florida says that, "The most common way to define boredom in Western culture is having nothing to do." No definition is ever without flaw, and this in my humble-non-psychologist-view is no exception. Boredom, as I have observed and experienced it, has more to do with things like frustration and blahness, than with lack of things to do. It is more closely related to a lack of willingness to overcome what has paralyzed us to begin with.
I am partial to a piece Fritz Redl wrote based on children's boredom and behavior:
"Boredom will always remain the greatest enemy of school disciplines. If we remember that children are bored, not only when they don't happen to be interested in the subject or when the teacher doesn't make it interesting, but also when certain working conditions are out of focus with their basic needs, then we can realize what a great contributor to discipline problems boredom really is. Research has shown that boredom is closely related to frustration and that the effect of too much frustration is invariably irritability, withdrawal, rebellious opposition or aggressive rejection of the whole show. "
Now change the word children to bored adults at work...shockingly it all makes sense, right?
So what's a mere mortal to do? What is a leader, motivator, manager, team associate to do to get out of the bore-funk?
It is always a good idea to try and figure out how we got there in the first place before setting out to change a behavior. Keep that in mind (as some strategies might not apply to you or your team members) as you read on.

You'll find boredom where there is the absence of a good idea. Earl Nightingale

Boredom has very few positives, and mostly will affect your work place by increased absenteeism, lack of engagement, low productivity, Internet abuse, errors, and verbal and physical aggression. So here are a few points to help you fight the boredom-blues:
Ask questions & listen- Too often boredom is not identified quick enough. It is like a loud radio playing in the background, we know something is bugging us but we can't quite put our finger on it. Most times we fail to recognize feelings of boredom until it evolves into something else (generally something worse), and engagement surveys don't usually address this topic. Remember that while under performing employees might share their frustrations, highly driven employees can appear engaged and be bored at the same time. Neither of you may notice the boredom as the work is still getting done will only learn about it when you see your valued employee walk away into more exciting territory...elsewhere. So take time during your one on one meetings and point blank ask: "Do you feel bored with your activities?" or "Is there any part of your role here you think you are bored with?" get the idea. Be candid. Listen. Find solutions together.
Challenge yourself and your staff- And more importantly, teach them how to self-challenge, e.g., learn a new skill, teach others something one has mastered, etc. Put your ear down the railroad tracks of past mistakes and, instead of merely punishing, take the time to teach and retrain.
Energize yourself and others- This begins with your morning greeting, and no, not being a morning person is not an excuse for grumpiness or being short with one another. Surprise someone with a morning snack and five minutes of random conversation. Smile. Seriously. Smiles can do wonders, didn't you know? Oh, and a sense of humor never hurts...
As much as possible avoid repetitive tasks- Be as creative as the job allows. Allow team members to switch tasks, take a breather, give them a learning hour or day, encourage them to shadow other roles (this is a great investment to see how other departments can work better together...think old SouthWest Airlines business model).
Avoid the status quo & make lists- That's right, whenever something frustrates you (or your associates) write it down and later (when frustration wore off) think about ways in which you can avoid this in the future. Each moment of frustration experienced enhances your chances to contribute to the company's success and your own. But only if these moments are capitalized on. So go ahead, try it, write it down and watch perspectives change.

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