IT Employment

Fighting boredom in the workplace


I once had a job that was so boring it was almost psychological torture. I stayed there for nine months in the hopes that somehow something would make a turn and things would get better. I couldn't even reach out for new opportunities because the company bureaucracy was so bad. If you'd given me a choice when my alarm went off every morning as to whether I would rather go to work or have sharp objects shoved under my fingernails, I'd have gone with the sharp objects.

So you can imagine my pleasure when I came across an article that talked about how some bosses in Europe are taking measures to fight boredom and its effect on employees. The article, Bosses Battle Bored Staff, appeared in Business Sense. Although the title brings about a mental picture of sword-brandishing bosses facing off against ennui-infested file clerks, it's actually about how some companies recognize the problems boredom can cause and are offering solutions for fighting it. The article says,

"Monotonous jobs with limited opportunities to shine are driving an increasing number of workers to distraction and costing employers dearly in lost productivity."

In the same article, workplace expert Dr Sandi Mann is quoted as saying much of the blame for a monotonous workplace goes to technology, meaning that modern jobs are too predictable and most duties can be done with the "push of a button."

Another expert blames endless meetings, mind-numbing repetition, paper work, and office bureaucracy.

Regardless of the causes, some of the anti-boredom solutions offered in the article are:

  • To offer staffers more responsibility (but not too much)
  • To foster a team player attitude
  • Instead of getting rid of the "dead wood," companies should retrain the people whose skills they feel have become "obsolete"

Can you think of other ways employers can help battle a monotonous workplace? (For the sake of efficiency, and because I know you people so well, let's just assume that alcohol and nudity have already been considered and rejected.)

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

19 comments
norin.radd
norin.radd

and read Toni Bowers's threads (O_o)

Tell It Like I See It
Tell It Like I See It

Speaking broadly, first know your people. What is boring to one person may be interesting to the next (and vice-versa). Second, work with your people to get them where they can do the jobs they find interesting -- even if it means transferring them to another department. If people are doing jobs they find interesting, they will not be bored. Oh, yes, continue to watch the employees because what is "interesting" today could be "boring" next week. Thus, managers need to watch their employees and be alert to such changes. While it may be in-vogue currently to have managers only look at numbers, this is an example of why there needs to be something more. Boredom is not something that can be monitored via numbers; and yet it can have a huge impact on the numbers that the managers want to watch.

lodestone
lodestone

Come on folks. This is Europe we're talking about here where in so many of the countries it is next to impossible to fire or even discipline lackadaisical employees. In France, where employement, once obtained, is treated as an inalienable right, when they recently attempted to pass a law allowing a probationary period to deal with the inevitable fallout of that culture, there were literally demonstrations! Of course they're bored! --Allen

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

I once had a job that was boring as..... Anyway, there were 2 people to take a 15 min report every hour, and make sure everything ran smoothly (alerts when problems arose). So, we took turns for the report, so approx. 15 min. of work every other hour. I lasted less than 3 months. I could not keep that level of boredom (especially at 10 hr. days). After about 4 hours of study, and 2 hours of browsing, and 4 hours left to go, I barely made it through each day. Felt like I aged 10 years in the 3 months. Every hour I went outside for a smoke, to stretch, and walk around the building. Even when it was raining. There was plenty of study time, but personally, after about 4 hours a day, I get tired of studying and stop retaining what I am reading. I took on every documentation project that I could find, and any other 'help' that was requested for a volunteer. Also, kept an eye out to find something that I could help on. But still, none did much at all. Wish I at least knew bout TR at the time (I think it was late 98/early 99).

Ed Woychowsky
Ed Woychowsky

Once worked for a manager that withheld information to fight boredom, he kept insisting that stress made people more creative. He was right too, never before or after have I seen people find so many creative methods of resigning a position. One of the best was the guy that just stopped showing-up for work, it was at least a month before anyone noticed and they kept paying him all the time.

Canuckster
Canuckster

What if you work for Playboy? Seriously though.... How about cross-training with other departments. Learn an alternate task such as shipping or warehousing. Makes your life more interesting and you more valuable. Also, speaking of cross-training, how about continuing education or physical exercises? Some organizations consider these time wasters, but if monotonany in a job is an issue, then a break is needed. Why not a break that benefits the employee and the employer? If the company is overly concerned over lost time at work then arrange lunchtime activities such as volleyball or new process testing for the people to participate in. People don't want to be bored, so get them moving and thinking and you have happier, more productive staff. But only if that's what management want.

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

The best advice in the reference article was the last, "set goals". I can't answer from managements perspective, but when the boredom is too much, I get up and move around the building and talk to people. If the boss asks what I'm doing, I'm gathering information. Actually, the goals need to meet two criteria. First they need to be different for you. Second they need to meet your organizations goals. There's probably more criteria but... If your bored because your idle that means your boss is allowing you the choice to pick your own goals. At least for a while. That means you can work at your own goals at your own pace. So like Nike says, "Just do it!" If your bored because your job is so routine that your just doing the same things all the time, then you have a different problem. This is a case where management can help by breaking up your routine. Extra training that takes you from the routine for a day, the special project. If your boss won't help you then try to find something you can do that's different, (that won't get you fired of course). Of course that's just my opinion

Dr Dij
Dr Dij

it expands your mind. And prepares you for the real world whre IT is not the only issue. btw, if you have free time there are plenty of dirt cheap courses to take while at work that are at least probably somewhat related to your job that will help you keep / find new job. I've been going thru classes on the IEEE site (all of element-k courses) and the ACM (skillsoft coruses) among other places.

lodestone
lodestone

. . . do stacks of paperwork? My previous skeptical reply notwithstanding, Tell It Like I See It and others have good points. Managers are supposed to be managing PEOPLE not paperwork! The middle management squeeze has not gotten better but likely worse. Excellent technicians who don't necessarily have the needed relational skills are often promoted into management positions & left to their own devices. Compound that with having to tame literal stacks of paperwork and there's no time to manage one's direct reports. I read once of a study showing that the number one area of training effectiveness is mid management. Some organizations are starting to wake up to this and investing in the training and other tools that managers need to be effective. --Allen

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I had a similar job for a government contractor who shall remain nameless. 10 and 12 hour shifts that at night consisted only of checking a dozen system operating parameters (CPU usage, RAM usage, computer room temperature, etc.) If you really stretched it out it would take 3:50 seconds. (Bored is when you time your job to see how long it takes without actually stalling.) I don't smoke, but I'd use the authorized smoke break (ten minutes every other hour) to walk next door to 7-Eleven to get some exercise. No Internet access, only one radio station, and (worst of all) no exceeding the job description as described in the contract. I read an unholy amount of sci-fi in those 30 months...

JamesRL
JamesRL

The reason many people are bored is because they have come to accept that things cannot or will not change. You should never accept that. If you do come to that realization that you cannot change things, then you should leave. You have a good point about cross-polinization, at one employer we made a point of cross training and it made a huge difference in having teams work well together. And every company can improve. The ideal thing though is not to try to change the world overnight, but to make small improvements on an ongoing basis. Training is another important thing - at my current employer part of my bonus is on whether or not I have made my employees take enough training. James

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

In the days when I was a lowly office admin, I had a department head with a good sence of humour. She'd ask at least once a week why we hadn't yet replaced the clear liquide in the drink cooler with Vodka yet. Would have made work a whole lot more entertaining but far less productive.

shady108
shady108

brightened my job up ahem.............

zlitocook
zlitocook

That may be because you know every thing about your job and how to do it. But I have found that most IT people just know enough to get the job done and bluff their way through the rest of the day. I know I will be flamed for this but most of the time it is true. Most of the IT people just want every thing to run right and not receive a page/email or have an person standing behind them. Because of an outage or other IT problem. But there is always the I know person, they can fix most problems fast and seem to get the problem solved fast. But they leave the user feeling bad or stupid because they jump in and do it. And do not interact with the user. This is the IT person to watch because they know how to fix computers but not the user. They have the knowledge to fix computer problems but not help the user. This is a skill needed that is not a schooled skill but a learned skill but can be thought to a person.

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

payment services for companies to use ATM cards and cr@p. The only govt. work I have done was for the Navy, 2x I was sent out to a Navy station to help setup some new systems. Funny thing, both times I was sent out, there was more than qualified people who were told Not to setup their systems???

Noc1
Noc1

Here, Here! (Not literally, but figuratively in agreement)

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

just thought it odd at the time. However, I really needed the cash, and it was really, really easy. I showed up in the wrong vehicle one day and was 'parked' by an armed guard until it was straightened out. It wasnt really a hassle, and they treated me fine, but it was interesting. I did not know that they dont like people in rental cars on a weapons base. Well that and my bag with my papers was in the back seat... oops!

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Equipment or services are purchased along with installation. It doesn't matter that it's a compiler or SDK for the USAF Computer Support Center, a printer for the Army NOC, or a PC for the NSA. If installation is part of the contract, the contractor [u]will[/u] install.

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