If You’re Bored, Are You Boring?

Not necessarily: Disinterested workers may need more challenges and authority

By Dana Wilkie Feb 9, 2015
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​​Lately, some of your star workers have grown sluggish and easily distracted, are taking more-frequent and longer breaks, call in sick a lot, show up late and leave early, seem detached during meetings, and are putting in only minimal effort.

Could it be your employees are … bored?

If so, that could be for any of the reasons most of us grow bored: There’s not enough to do. She no longer feels challenged. He’s tired of the routine. She sees no opportunities for advancement. He feels his efforts aren’t paying off financially. 

“A main culprit is lack of challenging work,” said Jeff Corbin, founder and CEO of APPrise Mobile, an app development platform that helps companies with employee communications, public relations and investor relations. “A company’s workforce can be bored for other reasons—monotonous work, work with colleagues with whom they cannot relate or dislike, or feeling underappreciated regarding the work they have completed.”

Disengagement Is Up

Less than one-third (31.5 percent) of U.S. workers were engaged in their jobs in 2014, according to a January 2015 Gallup poll. A majority of employees (51 percent) were “not engaged,” and 17.5 percent were “actively disengaged”—for a whopping total of 68.5 percent. That’s the highest level of disengagement since Gallup first started measuring the performance indicator in 2000.

Gallup defined engaged employees as those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace. Among the questions Gallup asked 80,837 U.S. adults to determine their level of engagement: “At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day,” “In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work,” “This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow” and “The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.” 

Possible Remedies

Rob Wilson, president of Employco USA, which offers human resource services to companies, said employees often grow bored because of a mismatch between an employee’s skills and the job requirements. 

“The earlier a company can identify employees not suited for their current position, the sooner the employee can be moved to a better position,” Wilson said. “Disengaged employees are not producing optimal results and affect morale. There tends to be negative water cooler talk from disengaged employees that will eventually affect even the most focused employees.”

Wilson recalled that when one of his sales employees became bored, managers discovered it was because the worker felt he wasn’t “an important piece to the puzzle.” 

“When we began asking for and incorporating his suggestions for improvement, he became noticeably more engaged within weeks,” Wilson said. “In addition to his sales doubling over the next two quarters, his happier demeanor put the whole office in a better mood. That year, we had the best year-over-year revenue growth and turnover reduction we had experienced in over five years.”

Corbin said sometimes all that’s required to re-engage bored employees is to include them in more decisions, give them more authority or put them on projects that they find meaningful. 

“It’s vital to make employees feel part of something bigger than themselves, meaning companies must communicate to their workforce that they are an important part of…the company’s success,” he said. “Often, employees who aren’t sitting in headquarters don’t hear from senior management. They don’t know about what’s going on in their company from a high-level standpoint and therefore, feel as though their work isn’t considered important. This is an issue endemic with most medium-sized and large organizations.” 

Wilson said one idea for motivating a bored employee is to examine what’s causing the disconnect, perhaps by using an employee engagement survey followed by survey response analysis and planning meetings.

This could be particularly important for Millennials. Gallup found that they are the least engaged generation, at 28.9 percent. “Although the economy is improving, workers in this generation may not be getting the jobs they had hoped for coming out of college,” the researchers wrote. “Gallup’s employee engagement data reveal that Millennials are particularly less likely than other generations to say they ‘have the opportunity to do what they do best’ at work.”

Practices that Get Results

Gallup also studied 32 companies—collectively employing 600,000 people in seven industries—where engaged workers outnumber actively disengaged workers by a ratio of 9-to-1. Among the practices that Gallup found at these companies were the following: 

Their HR teams pay attention. “The best HR people have a gift for influencing, teaching and holding executives accountable,” the researchers wrote. “This is important because many executives rise through the ranks despite not being very good managers. HR experts teach leaders and managers to stretch and develop employees in accordance with their natural capabilities.”

They stick to the engagement “basics.” “When employees know what is expected of them, have what they need to do their jobs, are good fits for their roles, and feel their managers have their backs, they will commit to almost anything the company is trying to accomplish,” the researchers wrote.

They never blame the economy for a lousy workplace. “In periods of belt-tightening, engagement inevitably takes a hit,” they wrote. “The experience of the 32 exemplary companies… calls this rationalization into question. With few exceptions, they have also had to respond to flat or declining top lines—with structural changes, redundancies, and declining real pay and benefits—and yet not only have they maintained their strong cultures, they’ve improved them. They have achieved this by being open, making changes swiftly, communicating constantly and providing hope.” 

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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