Bored at work? Your sanity isn’t the only thing at risk

A recent study in Finland has illustrated that being bored at work can be a contributing factor to poor health and well-being. The study looked at 87 Finnish organisations and how being physically present but unmotivated at work can have be as costly to your workers as it can be to your organisation.

Boredom at work can take many forms. We’ve all caught ourselves staring out the window on a sunny Friday afternoon and wishing we were elsewhere, or wondered if that grass is indeed greener on the other side of the career fence.

The odd ho-hum day is a reality we all know but usually it’s nothing a good laugh with colleagues or a lunchtime gym session won’t pull us out of. But when the boredom grows and the issues associated with chronic job dissatisfaction increase, it’s time to re-evaluate.

For your workers, boredom at work can be characterised as passiveness, lack of interest in tasks in a given situation, and an inability to concentrate (again, this sounds like many a tired Monday morning but if this is every day, then Houston…).

Prolonged boredom at work can offset an array of negative consequences such as depression, drug and alcohol abuse and decreased job satisfaction and performance.

Staff retention can also be affected, with boredom amongst staff leading to stressed workers who spend as much time planning to leave their job as they do actually in their job. The study showed that retirement ages are younger for people bored at work, stress levels are higher – particularly in professional vocations – and permanently employed staff are more likely to be bored than temporarily engaged workers.

Bored workers also considered themselves to be less healthy. Employees experiencing boredom were one and a half times more likely to rate their health as poor.

In terms of work health and safety, boredom is clearly a factor in terms of managing the wellbeing of your staff. When this expands into workplace safety, boredom on the job could lead to risk-taking, lack of concentration and ultimately, injury.

This is not to say that repetitive or low skilled work can lead to boredom. In fact the study found quite the opposite. Jobs that were excessively demanding, or had intangible goals (and therefore lack of purpose) fostered boredom more than jobs that had tight and specific deadlines. High levels of control and/or bureaucracy also left workers feeling less than impressed.

Lack of autonomy leaves people without control over their work life, leading to dissatisfaction.

In many ways, being bored at work is personal – some of your workers will always find ways to keep themselves busy and motivated, just as some will avoid work like the plague. Everyone experiences some level of boredom after doing anything for long enough – it’s our nature to explore, to be challenged and to be creative. But let’s face it, work can knock all that out of you after a bad day in the office!

How we, as individuals and employers, choose to manage that boredom is key. Here are a few simple ways to change your workers’ mood and stop their jobs, or your business, from going as stale as the bread left in the workplace fridge:

  • Provide workers with new projects and responsibilities in areas that interest them.
  • Encourage workers to swap tasks with colleagues and undertake new challenges.
  • Allow workers to take breaks and get some fresh air.
  • Facilitate training courses, or provide access to online training.
  • Encourage the creation of employee groups such as fundraising committees and social clubs.
  • Make meetings worthwhile!
  • Provide plants and appropriate lighting to make workspaces more inviting.

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