The workplace is one of the places in our lives where boredom can be the most toxic, and for many American employees, boredom at work is a daily event. Not only did 43% of workers admit to being bored at work in a 2016 Udemy study, but the same study found bored workers are twice as likely to leave their job in the next six months.1 Understanding this phenomenon gets easier when you think about boredom not only as literally having nothing to do, but also as a situation in which none of the possible things that an employee can do appeals to them.2
There are many factors that can contribute to employee boredom in this sense, but according to recent survey findings, five in particular cause the most chronic issues, with each generation having their own triggers into unproductivity.3 Since July is Anti-Boredom Month, we want to examine each cause, as well as some solutions business owners can apply to motivate staff across the company.
1. Employees Aren’t Learning Enough
Four-in-five employees surveyed by Udemy agreed that learning new skills at work would make them more engaged. Investing in an employee’s training or education shows them they are valued and have a future in their role at the company. This is especially important because entry to mid-level workers are 46% more likely to be bored than their colleagues in upper management.4
By focusing specific education efforts on employees who are newer to the company, business owners can help ensure that fresh talent is engaged and improve the business’ overall productivity at the same time. “A lot of employees would jump at the chance to learn how to improve their presentation skills, feel more confident through body language, have a better memory, be a more successful negotiator, etc.” said Darren Shimkus, VP at Udemy.5
2. Employees Aren’t Being Challenged
When tasks that are menial or unfamiliar pile up, some staff might lose motivation, ‘switch off,’ and procrastinate doing things that seem mindless. Others with too much work might go the opposite direction, overwork, and burn themselves out.
Researchers Lia Loukidou, John Loan-Clark, and Kevin Daniels state in the International Journal of Business Reviews that monotonous, formulaic, or routine work tasks most frequently lead to boredom. They do also acknowledge that routine can be somewhat beneficial for empowering creativity and innovation, writing: “In order to enhance creativity and thus limit boredom, workdays must be structured to change between periods of cognitively challenging work and periods of mindless work.”6 About 44% of employees claimed that their boredom was because their work was unchallenging or didn’t require them to make use of their education.7
No matter what your industry, make sure to create opportunities for employees at all levels to rise to new challenges and put themselves to the test.
3. Employees Don’t Have Enough Work
About 30% of employees said their boredom was at least partially caused by not having enough work to do.8 Millennials are twice as likely to be bored at work as their older counterparts, and many experts believe this is at somewhat due to their efficiency at using technology. A task that might take a Baby Boomer a few hours on a computer, a Millennial can often complete in less time, leaving them waiting around for the next task.9
If a manager or business owner notices this kind of behavior from an employee, they should take it as an opportunity and delegate new tasks to that individual. Try to choose tasks they will find more challenging or fulfilling, but that won’t have them pulling more than their fair share of the weight around the office. Especially with Millennials, empowerment is key to job satisfaction. This will heighten their engagement, but not tip the scales into their feeling overworked just because they’re more efficient.10
4. Employees Have Too Much Work
By focusing specific education efforts on employees who are newer to the company, business owners can help ensure that fresh talent is engaged and improve the business’s overall productivity at the same time.
On the other hand, 25% of employees claimed their boredom was due to having too much work.11 When tasks that are menial or unfamiliar pile up, some staff might lose motivation, "switch off," and procrastinate doing things that seem mindless. Others with too much work might go the opposite direction, overwork, and burn themselves out.12
In both cases, this cause of boredom is perhaps the simplest for managers or business owners to address; communicate clearly and often with employees about their workload and make sure everyone has enough time to do the things they need to, even if they don’t want to do them.
5. Employees Are on Social Media
This last cause of boredom in the office may not be one that your company has to worry about, depending on your industry or company policies around device and internet usage. However, 29% of employees surveyed by Udemy about their workplace boredom said that social media distractions were one contributor to their disengagement.13 This cause of boredom is one that goes beyond the workplace; heavy social media usage has been linked to depression. “Highly idealized representations of peers on social media elicits feelings of envy and the distorted belief that others lead happier, more successful lives,” found one study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.14
To prevent those emotions from coming into the workplace, businesses can work to reduce social media use during work hours. One easy way to do this would be to block certain social media websites from access on work computers, only granting access to employees who need them, such as your marketing team.
Boredom is a complex yet short-lived emotion when compared to feelings like job satisfaction or engagement.15 Recognizing these common causes of ennui around the office—and taking steps to prevent or correct them—is one way a savvy business owner or manager can stand out among competition in their industry. Creating an engaging culture makes it more likely that talented employees will build careers at your business that inspire their passion, not just show up for a job and watch the clock until their shift ends or something better comes along.
3 https://about.udemy.com/udemy-for-business/workplace-boredom-study/ & https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-20/edition-2/boredom-work/