3 Steps to Combating Boredom in the Workplace

Do your employees look like they’re falling asleep at their desks? If so, chances are they’re bored.

Bored employees could devastate a company’s bottom line if their production drops or they leave the company, forcing HR to increase spending on recruitment.

We’ll address how and why it’s important for companies to understand what causes boredom in their workplaces and show you how you can make changes within your own organization.

1. First, understand what causes boredom
It’s fair to make the assumption that unengaged employees are probably bored too, and there exist countless employees who are disengaged. In fact, Gallup reported that only 32 percent of U.S. employees were engaged last year. And while that’s up from 29 percent in 2011, it’s still a pretty dismal number that leaves us asking: if it took four years for this number to crawl up three percentage points, how long will it take for that number to reach 100 percent, where it should be?

Nigel Barber of Psychology Today made an excellent point regarding how managers can identify the causes of boredom by using lab rats. Experiments have shown that rats tend to get lethargic if they sit around for hours before scientists feed them. Employees react the same way – they are more likely to get bored during the workday but become more excited as the day nears its end.

“Employees work more efficiently and harder and with more motivation when employers reward them.”

Of course, we’re not implying employees are like lab rats – because they’re not. However, the notion that employees work harder and more efficiently with greater motivation when employers reward them stands true.

Barber said that employees get bored, in part, because they’re not being stimulated enough by engaging work throughout the day. However, they become more motivated and feel more excited when they focus on their job rather than the amount of time they’re sitting at their desks.

Employers can address the issue of tasks and time by offering more creative incentives, which we’ll discuss here.

2. Figure out what’s causing employees to become bored
To make your workplace more exciting, companies need to first understand what’s causing employees to become bored.

As we stated earlier, low engagement is likely an issue, but to specifically identify weak areas, employers must reach out to their employees to figure out how they’re feeling. They can do this in the form of one-on-one meetings, group sessions, and surveys.

From there, employers need to put together a comprehensive report that not only analyzes the data but also addresses ways to combat boredom.

While solutions are mostly company-specific, all employers can (and should) get creative when trying to liven up their offices. Let’s discuss why that type of mindset is important and suggest a couple of common ways companies can increase engagement levels.

3. Fight boredom by getting creative and balancing offerings
Employers need to fight boredom by thinking outside of the box and getting creative with their employee offerings. Employees want to be rewarded, and many of them don’t believe their employers give them a pat on the back often enough.

A survey commissioned by O Great One!, according to lead researcher and HBR contributor David Novak, for example, found that 80 percent of American employees feel like their companies don’t show them enough recognition. Another 40 percent said they’d work harder if their employers rewarded them more.

The types of rewards also matter. Interestingly, NPR’s social correspondent Shankar Vedantam discussed employee motivation with Renee Montagne, the host of Morning Edition, and found that employees are often motivated by rewards they have the potential to earn but aren’t necessarily guaranteed to attain.

Vedantam talked about an experiment Ayelet Fishbach, a professor of behavioral science and marketing at the University of Chicago, conducted about employee motivation. Fishbach asked one group of volunteers to drink a lot of water and she would give them $2. She then told another group they could earn either $1 or $2 if they drank a lot of water, but she would flip a coin to see what how much money they’d receive.

If your employees are bored at work, inspire them!
If your employees are bored at work, inspire them!

Vedantam found that those who weren’t guaranteed a reward actually worked harder than their counterparts. Fishbach said employees will say they want a guaranteed reward, but her study indicates otherwise.

So how should you, the employer, approach your workplace dilemma with this information in hand?

“Companies should take a diversified approach to their reward and recognition strategy.”

We believe it’s critical for companies to take a diversified approach to their reward and recognition strategy.

For example, employers could host a rewards ceremony once a year or, at the minimum, hand out awards to employees in a public setting. However, how employees climb to the top of their company and earn these awards should depend on the goals they achieve and incentives they attain. As you can see, the latter satisfies Fishbach’s findings, while the former offers a guaranteed event employees can look forward to.

She also noted, after being asked by host David Greene whether her findings could apply to other offerings like salary, that “there’s a point in which excitement tips over into terror. And if NPR told me my salary was uncertain at that level, I don’t think it would be enjoyable. It would be terrifying…”

The point is this: It’s critical that companies creatively provide a jolt of excitement to office environments, but they need to be careful this feeling doesn’t spill over into uncertainty – which could lead to other human resource problems.

Creating a more engaging work environment isn’t difficult. Start by finding out why employees are disengaged and think of unique (guaranteed and non-guaranteed) incentives and rewards that can inspire them to work harder and more efficiently.

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