“I’m bored” are two words that strike fear into the hearts of parents everywhere. As a young mother, I quickly learned that failure to constructively address that phrase generally meant that we were in for spells of moodiness, irritability (mine as well as the kids’), petty tiffs and more.
But today, it’s not just parents who must grapple with the issue of boredom. According to recent research, so must managers. Who would have guessed that boredom would raise its head in the workplace, given record levels of burnout, stress and anxiety? And yet, in a study conducted by OnePoll for CSU Global and reported by Talker, 46% of the 2,000 Americans polled reported being bored most of the workweek.
For leaders within organizations, however, the consequences of boredom go far beyond unwanted wrangling in the backseat of the car. Bored employees can become frustrated, inattentive and less productive employees. Their negative emotions can spread to infect other members of the team and the overall culture. And these bored employees can become a greater flight risk, often introducing unwanted turnover.
That’s why savvy managers are proactively pulling out their boredom barometers and engagement gauges to assess the risks of boredom on their teams. So they can take steps to augment and elevate the employee experience. Evaluating employee sentiment begins with a conversation.
While performance and problem-solving conversations are commonplace, when was the last time you checked in on how those who report to you feel about their work? Carving out time to explore people’s relationship with their work sends a powerful signal of respect and value, cultivates trust and surfaces important information that leaders need to know. Consider incorporating questions like these into your formal and informal interactions to calibrate current boredom/engagement levels.
- What about your work brings you energy?
- What about your work drains your energy?
- What percentage of your capacity do you believe you’re currently using?
- How much of your capacity would you like to be using right now?
- How do you see your work contributing to the organization’s mission or customer needs?
- How meaningful do your contributions at work feel to you?
- To what extent are your social needs (your need to connect with others) met at work?
- When did you last learn something new or exciting that you could use at work?
These questions — asked with a spirit of curiosity and trust — allow you and the employee to better understand their current enthusiasm and engagement. And this is the first step toward co-creating a different and elevated experience for and with the employee. Depending upon each person’s unique responses, there are many ways to blast past boredom.
- Introduce variety. Find ways to mix things up. Novel tasks. Different people. New locations. Unfamiliar customers, suppliers, and partners. Variety is the spice of life that brings out the flavor of engagement.
- Identify opportunities for more significant innovation or creativity. Boredom is frequently the result of becoming an expert at a given task. Take advantage of that expertise — and build greater engagement. Offering a chance to improve a process, identify next-level features or invent new products helps the business and hampers boredom.
- Brainstorm development interests and possibilities. Growth is one of the most potent ways to engage the mind and soul. Work together to determine what employees want to learn and how they want to grow. Develop a plan that incorporates elements of development into each workday.
- Offer a new challenge. Boredom and challenge cannot co-exist. So, send boredom packing by inviting employees out of their comfort zones with new experiences that offer meaning and stretch.
- Find ways to elevate autonomy. Heightened authority or decision-making is an effective strategy for adjusting the dynamics of an employee’s job to raise the stakes and activate a heightened level of interest.
- Explore a new view. Sometimes, you won’t be able to address the ennui within the context of the current role. In those cases, you owe it to that person, yourself and your team to consider possibilities elsewhere. Ideally, that might be within a different department or function. However, regaining excitement around one’s work may require leaving (in which case a warm departure contributes to a positive reputation in the recruiting marketplace and the possible return of talented employees.)
Engagement is the key to a thriving, sustainable workforce. Today’s leaders can’t afford the metaphorical backseat bickering that can emerge when nearly half the workforce reports feeling bored. Explore people’s ‘ho-hum’ with your own ‘how come?’ Open a dialogue that allows you to replace your employee’s engagement-draining ordinary experiences with your extraordinary commitment to their experience. This process will transform boredom into brilliance, bliss and business outcomes.
Julie Winkle Giulioni is a champion of growth and development in the workplace, helping leaders and organizations optimize the potential of their people. Named one of Inc. Magazine’s top 100 leadership speakers, she’s the author of the bestseller “Promotions Are So Yesterday” and co-author of “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want.” Learn more about her work at JulieWinkleGiulioni.com.
Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.