Francis Wade | Managing employee boredom
ADVISORY COLUMN: PRODUCTIVITY
To managers and older colleagues, new, millennial employees seem to be permanently stuck in a state of disinterest.
Afflicted with short attention spans they appear to be unable to summon the drive and motivation of prior generations. If this observation is in any way accurate, what should managers do to engage their hearts and minds?
One solution I explored in prior articles is the ways managers can gamify the work experience, challenging staff to use their best skills. In this article, let’s look at the flip side — what does the employee need to do even if their environment remains unchanged?
As a modern manager, you may start by acknowledging a fact: for most young employees, their nine to five job is the most boring, restrictive part of their lives. While it occupies the most hours of the week, it’s seen by many as a tax they are forced to pay in order to meet their financial obligations. Instead, the time to come alive is on weekends and other days off, when they can be creative and foster key relationships.
In other words, they leave their best selves at the door each weekday morning and reclaim it when they leave the office in the afternoon.
Unfortunately, this state of affairs is not unusual. I have worked with senior executives who quietly admit they hate their jobs. It's merely a sacrifice they make to cling on to other things they value in their lives. When this attitude can be found everywhere in a company from top to bottom, a real problem exists few are equipped to solve. Here are some ways to deal with it.
COMMIT TO DRIVE OUT FEAR
Dr W.E. Deming, the quality guru who espoused this mantra, is probably turning in his grave. Today, most workplaces use fear as a weapon to keep people in line. The worst use overt actions. Periodically, they fire someone without warning, ensuring it happens in plain view of others, preferably using armed escorts.
Most firms just ignore the topic of fear altogether, more intent on creating wage-slaves they can easily control. As a result, people at all levels walk around afraid of the unknown, sometimes creating their own ‘evidence’ especially when none can be actually observed. Over time, they dullen their senses just to cope, converting acute anxiety into chronic unease. Before too long, the halls are filled with the walking dead.
The irony is that the best employees have no fear. They are either independently wealthy, actively keep other options open or have achieved a state of inner enlightenment which makes them immune. They are not afraid to take risks, but willingly and regularly challenge the status-quo, acting as if they have nothing to lose.
The very best companies develop an enlightened courage: the power to act in the face of fears. Either by demonstration, instruction or coaching, they provide the means for employees at all levels to be strong.
TEACH ATTENTION MANAGEMENT
One way to develop this strength is to make a game of it. Employees can be taught how to play with highly productive flow-like states. Even when there’s little fun to be experienced, these moments can enable employees to produce their best work.
However, most don’t know how to gamify their work on their own. They simply respond to the daily arrival of email messages from other people. Without an agenda for themselves or their function, they reserve their brains for simple problem-solving. Not even a promotion interests them.
It’s a mode of work which offers little satisfaction, and an endless supply of boredom.
However, these new skills can be taught. An employee can be shown how to enter an ultra-productive, gamified state and also how to schedule time to achieve it regularly. He can plan his day so that high productivity sprints become a regular feature rather than a matter of chance. In this scenario, everyone wins.
BOLSTER MOOD MANAGEMENT
However, winning means more than being proactive. It also requires the kind of transformation in which employees manage their inner state. Over time, their unwanted feelings are not a show-stopper, just something important to notice. By expanding their ability to respond, they can make more enlightened choices.
In other words, rather than surrender to boredom they learn how to see it in the moment and actively bypass it in healthy ways.
Ultimately, companies which take engagement seriously won’t waste time trying to make employees happy, or prevent dissatisfaction.
Instead, they teach employees to manage themselves and their boredom; to use it as an internal indicator of inappropriate engagement. Instead of letting them wallow, they provide the means for employees to develop themselves so they can be enlightened and therefore have a choice.
Francis Wade is a management consultant and author. To receive a Summary of Links to past columns, or give feedback, email: firstname.lastname@example.org