Almost half of Americans are bored at work, according to new research by OnePoll conducted for Colorado State University Global. Of the 2,000 working U.S. adults who participated in the 2023 survey, 46 percent said they get bored at least three days of the workweek.
A June 2023 survey of 3,500 employees by Gartner, a research and consulting firm, revealed similar results.
“Only 31 percent of employees report they are engaged, enthusiastic and energized by their work,” said Jen Priem, senior principal of research in the Gartner HR practice. “This is staggering, as it means that nearly 70 percent of the workforce is languishing—or burned out—and are not finding a meaningful connection to their jobs.”
Boredom at work, also called “bored-out,” has significant implications for workplaces, from lower productivity to diminished quality of work and higher turnover.
“Ultimately, if employees are acting bored or disengaged, they may end up having bigger issues down the line and eventually quitting because they don’t feel valued or engaged,” said Paaras Parker, CHRO at Paycor, a human capital management firm.
“Boredom commonly stems from issues with volume, variety, challenge or purpose in work,” said Mark Royal, senior director and engagement specialist at Korn Ferry.
Holding one-on-one meetings with staff helps managers move beyond the “to-do” list and dig into how employees feel about their work, he explained.
“Leaders can ask about current workloads (volume) to assess whether there is too little on employees’ plates—or too much, especially if particular repetitive activities (variety) are interfering with their ability to focus on more important priorities,” Royal added.
Consider asking employees:
- What excites you about your work?
- What aspect of your job makes you feel exhausted?
- What is one thing you would change about your role?
- How much do you feel your work contributes to the organization’s goals?
“It’s important to balance out one-on-one meetings,” Parker said. “Sometimes you need to be really task-oriented, but it’s equally important for leaders and associates to connect as human beings during these touch-bases as well.”
She suggested finding a non-work-related conversation point, such as a favorite sports team. Managers and employees can talk about the team, the latest game or their reaction to the win or loss.
“In these moments, you can pick up on subtle cues that might indicate how the employee is feeling. Are they engaged in the dialogue? Are they sharing the same types of things they used to? Are they just focused on a task list?” Parker said. “Strong relationships and clarity can help you manage a potential problem or behavior shift with an employee before someone even has time to reach a level of boredom.”
The CSU Global survey also revealed an opportunity to alleviate boredom. Nearly half (48 percent) of participants said that if they were part of a new process or project at work, they would feel less bored and more motivated.
“Look for opportunities to switch up employee tasks when available,” Parker said. “Where do you have the ability to change up an everyday experience? Sometimes, getting a little bit of variety can go a long way.”
Additionally, 28 percent of the poll respondents said tuition payments by their employer toward a degree would help cut down on boredom. But Priem cautioned that simply investing and doing more isn’t the answer.
“To enhance engagement and drive greater ROI, HR leaders must think about barriers to engagement, how they can ensure employee feedback turns into noticeable improvements in employees’ daily lives and talk about engagement in a way that solidifies how responsive the organization is,” she said.
Finding the Right ‘Dance Floor’
Boredom isn’t always bad. It could signal that it’s time for a new opportunity for the employee—and offer a chance for the organization to leverage an individual’s professional growth.
“In some cases, employees may have overstayed the optimal amount of time in a role, reaching a point of ‘unconscious competence,’ where tasks seem to involve little that’s new, challenging or stretches their capabilities,” Royal said. “In other cases, employees may simply not be on the right ‘dance floor.’ Change can be a factor here.”
This change can happen as the requirements of specific roles shift, he added. As a role evolves, the individual’s skills, abilities or interests may no longer fit the position. Royal also noted that the uncertain economy may lead a person to feel stuck in a less-than-ideal job because it is currently riskier and more difficult to change roles internally or externally.
“Beyond focusing on the current role, leaders can also be more forward-looking,” he said. “If boredom is evident, is it time for a role change? That is, should the leader and employee be exploring alternative roles that might be a better fit for the employee’s highest skills and provide more challenging and meaningful work?”
Katie Navarra is a freelance writer based in New York state.