pp-live-2020-nov-19
pp-live-2020-nov-19
Oct 30, 2019

One person’s boredom is another’s enthusiasm

Paul Clapham examines boredom in the workplace and how to deal with it

Once they’ve been working for a number of years most people have had a boring job, one that they leave pretty rapidly. Interestingly, it turns out that an old adage of employment: ‘people quit a boss not a job’ is in fact wrong.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Lori Goler, head of people at Facebook (where do they get these titles?) said that they leave when their job is not enjoyable, or their career is stagnant or their strengths are underused. That at least is what they told her and we should not forget that people lie through their back teeth when explaining why they’re leaving.

Boredom is a part of work. Even sexy, glamorous jobs have their longueurs. 87 per cent of people experience boredom at work, according to Psychology Today. Read any of John Le Carre’s novels and it is clear that spying, a pretty glamorous calling if you want, has its boring bits. Le Carre is an ex-spy, remember. Actors and rock stars spend a lot more time practising the same thing over and over rather than actually performing.

This matters because employees can often misinterpret boredom as general dissatisfaction with a job and leave, which is bad for both the employee and the employer alike. It’s far better to have a culture that says ‘how can we make your job better for you’. Money and perks don’t come into it, incidentally.

Jobs that appear dull on the face of it can hold endless interest for some people. I recall having some 16 sheet posters printed many moons ago, long before short run digital print was even a glimmer in a printer’s eye. The printers employed a guy to touch in one of the four process colours where the machine had missed.

That would have had me and, I suspect, most people climbing the walls and screaming by lunchtime on the first day. He, by contrast, was really proud of his job: to him, it was in a creative field, it required precision and attention to detail and was well paid.

In the same vein, I used to work in the marketing department of a City insurance company where I had to mix with actuaries regularly. These are the people who assess risk for all forms of insurance. When your renewal notice shows a big hike, spit in the general direction of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries in Holborn.

They are not exciting people. How could they be when they spend 37 hours a week studying statistics on computer spreadsheets? Consider, too, that those statistics address, inter alia, such lively subjects as mortality, morbidity and personal injury.

The dignity of labour. A boring job puts money in your bank each month, it gives you self-respect. It enables you to pay your way, hold your head up, buy your round. Until relatively recently the only reasons for working were to put food on the table, pay the mortgage/ rent and clothe the family. Now it’s about job satisfaction – nice if you can get it but not essential.

Work is a means to an end, not the other way around. Silicon Valley and its billion dollar unicorns have led to people thinking that chasing the big bucks (and working 168 hour weeks) is all life is about. It’s not and it certainly isn’t what happiness is about for most people.

Elon Musk notably said “nobody changed the world on 40 hours a week”. True. It didn’t take that long. Lennon and McCartney and Jagger and Richards could lay claim to achieving that change and they did it when they weren’t working.

Consider, too, the detectorists who regularly discover big bucks hoards of gold, silver and precious gems or those who pan for precious metals in Welsh rivers. Then there are the artists and writers who turn a passion into a million. All of this is happening on a daily basis and the people involved don’t call it work because it’s an enthusiasm. But it’s mostly dull and repetitive.

Your customers will be sports enthusiasts. Hopefully your staff are, too, otherwise you’ve got the wrong staff. Encourage them to talk sport with customers. When Ben Stokes was setting the country afire recently, what’s more natural than to talk about it?

As a final point some people are apparently naturally inclined to be bored. More than that, and rather worryingly, a rising generation of children are not learning how to entertain themselves. This, it is suggested, is because of excessive screen time from an early age and hence constant stimulation by games, TV and Facebook so they never have to do that for themselves. Tell them to go outdoors and climb trees or play football.

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