Boring Jobs

An article in today’s Seattle Times  reported that a new study by the Conference Board Consumer Research Center shows that only 45% of Americans are satisfied with their work–despite feeling lucky they have jobs.  This was the lowest level recorded in the 22+ years the Conference Board has studied the issue.

The study showed two main reasons: pay is not keeping up with inflation (especially with ever-growing health insurance deductions) and workers don’t see their jobs as interesting. Other factors at play included job insecurity and dissatisfaction with bosses.  Workers under 25 expressed the highest level of dissatisfaction.

As a workplace investigator and coach, I usually see other employees, both co-workers and superiors, as a main source of unhappiness on the job. But boredom is a huge factor as well, particularly for workers whose jobs involve high levels of repetitive tasks.

So is it an employer’s responsibility to make jobs more interesting? If so, why?  The answer is yes and the reasons are many: bored employees don’t perform their work very well, use more sick leave than engaged ones, lack loyalty to their employer, leave their jobs more frequently, and (from professional experience) tend to get in more trouble with their co-workers.

Cross-training, which at least enables employees to do a variety of boring tasks, is one common solution.

The solution? Solving the boredom problem is not easy given that much of the boring work in question just needs to get done.  However, employers can start by talking to their people and asking them how their jobs could be more interesting. Cross-training, which at least enables employees to do a variety of boring tasks, is one common solution.  Maybe music (motivational Muzak, anyone?) can help. Maybe contests of some kind would work. Just showing an interest in itself–at the same time giving employees some responsibility for their own workplace and behaviors–can make a difference.

Do you have any other ideas on how to engage bored workers?  ~AS

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3 responses to “Boring Jobs

  1. Hi Amy,
    Article is on the mark, but most are too fearful to do anything about it in today’s economy. One solution is to bring together those who must accomplish similar tasks, to investigate in detail and tell the truth about what works and what doesn’t work to get the job done. There must be a clear promise that the groups, together, will implement and evaluate changes. People on all levels (all stakeholders) must participate or this will not work. Forget about fake empowerment of the assistants or the midlevel people. This is a long and arduous process, but it is really the only thing that works. It must be more than cookie cutter. People are not Toyotas. See David Fetterman’s writings.

  2. Your piece on boring jobs reminded me of a work experience from years ago, back in the days of snail mail. Every quarter we had to put out a statewide newletter on consumer protection issues, which involved hours of tedious labor folding, stapling and sorting for bulk mail. The head of the office insisted that everyone, including attorneys, sit down together to accomplish the task in one afternoon. Not only did this save the secretarial staff hours of drudgery, it also increased office morale and a sense of “we are all in this together.” The head of the office practiced what she preached–she also joined in the work party.

  3. I have a solution…. I have devoted my blog to it. I consistently do very, very boring jobs. However, I am never bored at work. My solution may not work for everyone though.
    See what you think over at http://workingbytorchlight.wordpress.com/

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