Are your employees bored?

We all feel bored at times – it’s one of life’s realities and some tasks we have to undertake are less stimulating than others. This is true both in and outside the work environment but it can have a really negative impact on your company’s business health if it becomes a regular problem for your staff and it could be more prevalent than you think. If it goes unchecked it could lead to issues such as absenteeism, poor internal relations and underperformance.

According to research undertaken by business psychologist, Sandi Mann, it is the second most commonly hidden workplace emotion after anger and can be just as detrimental. In order to alleviate boredom in the workplace, you need to understand what causes it, which requires careful consideration of a number of key factors:

  • Your recruitment process
  • Your business processes
  • Your organisational structure
  • Your working culture
  • Recognition and reward

Your recruitment process – are you getting it right?

It stands to reason that someone who is working in a job they could do standing on their head is more likely to get bored. Feeling over skilled and underutilised is a recipe for negativity. The only way to avoid this is to ensure that your recruitment process is up to scratch. Are you advertising jobs accurately and have you identified the right skills for the responsibilities it will involve? Are you assessing CVs correctly? Think about how you shortlist; what do you place the greatest emphasis on? Is it salary level, qualifications, proximity to work or previous experience? Are you honest during the interview stage with regard to the role on offer? Are you easily ‘blinded’ by the potential in someone who interviews well despite them not being an ideal fit for the job?

To establish the kind of person and skills you should be looking for, speak to those on the ground – the people who are performing the tasks already. Do they feel there is a gap in the existing team in terms of qualifications, technical ability or knowledge? Also ask them which publications they read – it could be worth rethinking how and where you advertise to assess whether you are reaching the right target audience.

This approach works on two important levels; in addition to helping match the right person with the right role, it also engages existing staff in the recruitment process and makes them aware that their opinions are valued.

Your business processes – is independent thinking stifled by too many processes?

The introduction of automated systems can result in staff feeling that their own skills and intelligence have become redundant. Increasingly, systems and procedures have become more rigid and controlled, which often goes hand-in-hand with compliance to industry standards such as ISO which demands a more systematic and organised working environment.

While this may well play to the strengths of those who like order and direction, for those who are more entrepreneurial, who like to test boundaries, it can be suffocating.

To reduce the likelihood of disengaging your more innovative staff, make sure everyone in the business understands why you want them to comply with a set industry standard. Make them aware of the process, what it will entail and what their role will be and ensure that you communicate the benefits of compliance – for example, it could reduce unnecessary, time consuming tasks. By involving staff in changes that affect them you are more likely to have an engaged workforce, which is a huge benefit to your business.

Also, try to find other ways more innovative staff can flex their creative muscles. Are there other responsibilities they could take on that would provide the opportunity for initiative, such as a thought-leadership role? Could you task them with suggesting improvements that could be made in other areas of the business? They may relish the opportunity to be part of a working group examining positive change in the workplace or could perhaps be involved in the process of compliance?

Your organisational structure – are you able to see the wood for the trees?

If your company is structured in such a way that talent becomes lost in the crowd, you could be unwittingly inviting boredom into your workplace. Very little disengages employees as quickly as lack of recognition and poor potential for personal and professional growth, and the two go hand-in-hand.

The most effective leaders I have met recognise the value of ‘lean teams’- smaller teams comprised of six to eight people. By managing smaller teams it is easier to spot potential, it is easier to encourage a more collaborative and open working relationship with managers and co-workers and it is also far easier to identify underutilised or bored staff.

Of similar importance is how your management team communicates with their staff and whether they are setting the right examples according to how you want your business to be run. Is your senior team connected enough with those they are responsible for managing? Is there plenty of opportunity for two-way communication – do your managers listen to staff and react accordingly where appropriate? Again, disengaged staff are more likely to be affected by boredom so these are important considerations.

Your working culture – does it challenge and engage your staff?

There are undeniably some jobs that are less challenging than others, and they suit different personality types. For example, a job on a factory production line isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but for the right person it’s ideal.

While suitability for a role is a must, it is also vital that people are given the opportunity to develop their roles where possible, if they wish to do so – they may simply have outgrown their current position or may have undertaken additional training to enable them to take on more responsibility or different tasks but not have been given the opportunity to apply their new skills. Imagine how you would feel if you trained for a job that then never materialised – disengaged, bored, angry – just a few of the emotions you could easily apply to this scenario.

As an employer, it is your duty to make sure that willing members of your workforce are challenged but don’t think that giving them more work will meet their desire for a greater challenge – the work has to be interesting. Being overstretched and being challenged are two very different things, which lead to very different outcomes – staff who are overstretched are typically unhappy and stressed, whereas staff who are challenged feel their potential is recognised, that they have the chance to prove their worth and are more likely to feel their job is rewarding.

Try to vary the work you give them and if new tasks are not available, change the order of their day or ask them to work in a different setting or with a different co-worker or team. Repetition is often the culprit so adding variety will help to alleviate it.

Recognition and reward

The most highly paid staff can be bored! Pay helps if the work is monotonous but it’s not the overriding factor why people thrive in their roles. Recognition is a major part of keeping employees engaged so make sure you share good results and feedback with your staff to demonstrate the value their roles have in the growth and well being of the business. This helps to keep people focused on the tasks they are employed to do and enables them to see themselves as part of an important and successful team.

It is also important that your appraisal process is geared towards identifying areas for professional growth. Bear in mind that appraisals are not just designed to offer staff your feedback on how you feel they are performing. It should also give staff the opportunity to say what it is they want from their jobs, how they would like their roles to develop, whether there are other jobs within the business they would like to work towards and what training they would like to undertake. They should also be given the opportunity to provide feedback about management without the fear of reprisal.

At work there should never be a dull moment! So try to change the way people view quieter periods at work – it is possible that staff could be viewing a lull in their job as boring but if they are educated to view it as an opportunity to do something constructive, such as plan ahead for busier periods, do some administrative tasks, have a tidy up, think of fresh ideas, volunteer to support local charity etc. Check how successful you are on keeping boredom at bay by organising regular staff surveys to ensure the workplace is a healthy environment.

For further information about The Survey Initiative, visit