Boredom in the Workplace
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Boredom in the Workplace

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Does Boredom at Work Matter?.
Boredom in the Workplace

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1. Boredom in the Workplace Dr Sandi Mann, C Psychol University of Central Lancashire A Conference Presentation for the Association of Business Psychologists Annual Conference May 7th 2009

2. Does Boredom at Work Matter? ?Boredom has been linked to high turnover, a lack of innovation and competitive disadvantage? Mark Anderson, director of Exec-U-Net and author of survey into workplace boredom, cited in Steinauer JM (1999) Bored Stiff, Incentive 173 (11) ? Be it at a desk at the Treasury Department, a spot on the factory floor, or a drab blue cubicle, boredom is a condition that can be more stressful and damaging than overwork? Washington post article, ?Boredom Numbs the Work World? August 10th 2005)

3. This Presentation Boredom ? what is it? Boredom at work ? what is known about it. Consequences of being bored at work Causes of workplace boredom Study: Teacher Boredom Boredom in the current economic climate

4. What is Boredom? Contrary to popular wisdom, boredom is not the result of having nothing to do. Rather, boredom stems from a situation where none of the possible things that a person can realistically do appeal to the person in question. 1. It is very hard to come up with a situation where a person's options are so limited that he or she literally can do nothing. 2. This renders the person inactive, and generally unhappy. Thus, boredom is the result of having nothing to do that one likes (as defined by Shuta, 1993) rather than nothing to do per se 1. It is very hard to come up with a situation where a person's options are so limited that he or she literally can do nothing. 2. This renders the person inactive, and generally unhappy. Thus, boredom is the result of having nothing to do that one likes (as defined by Shuta, 1993) rather than nothing to do per se

5. Definitions of Boredom A ?state in which the level of stimulation is perceived as unsatisfactorily low? (Hebb 1996) A distinct emotional state: ?Boredom is an unpleasant, transient affective state in which the individual feels a pervasive lack of interest in and difficulty concentrating on the current activity?.[such that] it takes conscious effort to maintain or return attention to that activity? (Fisher 1993, p.396)

6. The Purpose of Boredom Communication to others of our interests, values and beliefs. Adaptive mechanism against societal noise or information overload (Klapp 1986). A ?shield against self-confrontation? (Hoover 1986) A means to avoid discomfort or new knowledge (Dehlinger 1975). Communicates lack of ?presence? ? that you don?t want to be here. Functions as an excuse or justification (Scott & Lyman 1968) for eg non-involvement or respite Communicates a desire to be stimulated by others. Evolutionary value Stimulates the ?production of fantasies, awakening creativeness? (Brisset 1993) Evolutionary value: As a stimulus proves itself neither dangerous nor reinforcing, we simply lose interest in it and turn attention to other stimuli. Evolutionary value: As a stimulus proves itself neither dangerous nor reinforcing, we simply lose interest in it and turn attention to other stimuli.

7. Boredom as an Energiser Motivating force/catalyst for action: ?Boredom? is an alerting phenomenon that all is not well and something must be done.? (Gaylin 1979 p.129). ?I?m afraid of boredom because I get into all this emptiness? Sir Bob Geldof, October 12th, 2003, The Observer. Motivating force: makes us engage in challenge-seeking behaviour. Thus, paradoxically, boredom can be energising. Motivating force: makes us engage in challenge-seeking behaviour. Thus, paradoxically, boredom can be energising.

8. Boredom at Work Nearly 45% of hiring experts in a 1998 survey said firms lost top workers because they were bored with their jobs (Steinauer 1999) A third of Britons claim to be bored at work for most of the day (DDI survey reported in the Times March 7th 2004). In the financial services, half were often or always bored at work (ibid) In a survey of 800 000 employees those with ?too little work? gave satisfaction ratings of 49/100 compared with those with ?too much work? who gave ratings of 57 (Sirota Consulting in Washington Post, August 2005) Boredom is the second most commonly suppressed emotion at work (Mann 1999) 55% of all U.S. employees were found to be ?not engaged? in their work in a recent survey reported in the Washington Post (August 10th, 2005). 24% of office employees surveyed by Office Angels claimed that boredom caused them to rethink their career and look for alternative jobs (reported in The Guardian, 20th January 2003) 28% of graduates claimed to be bored with their job in a survey by the Teacher Training Agency (2004). Half of graduates working in a range of professions are regularly bored at work and those in administration, manufacturing, sales and marketing are the most likely to be wishing their working life away (1) DDI = Development Dimensions International Mann study: up to a third of communications in which emotion was suppressed involved suppression of boredom. Varied according to purpose of communication: when the purpose was to provide or obtain information, or obtain or provide a service it was 32%. Dealing with complainst was 8%. (1) According to the first 'Workforce Boredom Index' produced by the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA), administrative workers are particularly fed up. Also bored with their job are manufacturing and sales employees, ranked second and third on the index. And the dynamic image of the marketing/advertising industry does not appear to be holding true, as many are tired of the daily grind. But teachers have identified themselves as the least bored profession - reinforcing previous research by the TDA, which found that teachers demonstrate high levels of enjoyment, concentration and absorption in their daily tasks. The research was carried out by PCP in July 2006 and is based on a sample of 2113 graduate employees aged 21-45 years old. DDI = Development Dimensions International Mann study: up to a third of communications in which emotion was suppressed involved suppression of boredom. Varied according to purpose of communication: when the purpose was to provide or obtain information, or obtain or provide a service it was 32%. Dealing with complainst was 8%. (1) According to the first 'Workforce Boredom Index' produced by the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA), administrative workers are particularly fed up. Also bored with their job are manufacturing and sales employees, ranked second and third on the index. And the dynamic image of the marketing/advertising industry does not appear to be holding true, as many are tired of the daily grind. But teachers have identified themselves as the least bored profession - reinforcing previous research by the TDA, which found that teachers demonstrate high levels of enjoyment, concentration and absorption in their daily tasks. The research was carried out by PCP in July 2006 and is based on a sample of 2113 graduate employees aged 21-45 years old.

9. Training & Development Agency for Schools' Boredom Index Position?Profession???????????????????Average?boredom ????????????????????????????????????? rating?out?of 10 1??????Administrative/secretarial?? 10 2??????Manufacturing?????????????? 8.1 3??????Sales???????????????????????? 7.8 4??????Marketing/?advertising??????? 7.7 5??????IT/?telecommunications??????? 7.5 6??????Science?research/development? 7.3 7??????Media???????????????????????? 7.1 8??????Law?????????????????????????? 6.9 8??????Engineering?????????????????? 6.9 10????Banking/Finance?????????????? 6.6 11????Human?Resources?????????????? 6.6 12????Accountancy?????????????????? 6.3 13????Hospitality/Travel??????????? 5.3 14????Healthcare??????????????????? 5.1 15????Teaching????????????????????? 4.0

10. Why were they bored? Lack of job challenge (61%) Not using skills/knowledge (60%) Routine (50%) Half of those employees who are bored have considered changing their profession in the last year.

11. Boredom at work: a neglected concept Most previous research concerned with boredom proneness rather than task or job content (eg Drory 1982, Rupp & Vodanovich 1997). What little research there is focuses on task repetitiveness (eg Cox 1970) Thus, workplace boredom has been studied in the context of a limited range of tasks such as mechanical assembly, vigilance tasks and continuous manual control

12. Professions studied include: Heavy truck drivers (Drory 1982) Manual workers (Branton 1970) Government clerks (Dyer-Smith & Wesson 1997) Assembly autoworkers (Grubb 1975) Clerical employees (Lee 1986) Long distance truck drivers (McBain 1970) Repetitive press-operators (Hill 1975)

13. ?The experience of work boredom is not limited to blue collar workers or office workers performing repetitive or routine work? (Fisher 1993, p.395) ?Organizational researchers know very little about the phenomenon of boredom. There is no agreed definition of the construct or well-developed instrument for measuring it, and there is no comprehensive theory of its causes? (Fisher 1993) ?Organizational researchers know very little about the phenomenon of boredom. There is no agreed definition of the construct or well-developed instrument for measuring it, and there is no comprehensive theory of its causes? (Fisher 1993)

14. Consequences of Workplace Boredom "It blocks creativity, which can undermine any company, which can keep it from staying abreast of the marketplace, competition. When you have that boredom, that can produce a kind of pervasive cloud. It can build like a critical mass that hurts the company's performance and market position.? Douglas LaBier, a business psychologist who runs the Center for Adult Development in Washington, in Washington Post, August 2005

15. Consequences: Research findings Poor performance at work (Branton 1970, Drory 1982, O?Hanlon 1981, Smith 1981) Correlations with anger (Rupp and Vodanovich) Accidents (Branton 1970, Drory 1982)High Absenteeism (Brisset& Snow 1993, Saito et al 1972) More errors (Cox 1980, Drory 1982, O?Hanlon 1981) Stress, increased risk taking/thrill seeking (Hamilton 1983, O?Hanlon 1981, Orcutt 1984, Wasson 1981, Zuckerman 1979)

16. Consequences continued? Sleepiness (Grose 1989) Stress-related health problems eg heart attacks (eg Alfredsson, Karasek & Theorell 1982) Job dissatisfaction (Caplan et al 1975). Property damage (Drory 1982)

17. Causes of Workplace Boredom Task effects Work environment effects Person effects Labelling effects Labelling ? how do people know they are bored? Appraisial components Labelling ? how do people know they are bored? Appraisial components

18. Task Effects Tasks which are high in skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy and feedback are thought to produce less boredom (Hackman & Oldham 1980) 55% of boredom incidents due to quantitative underload (Fisher 1987)

19. Work environment Effects People (the social psychology of boredom): other people can offset boredom due to direct/indirect stimulation. (unless they are boring people!) Reactance Overjustification

20. Person Effects Capacity (intelligence) Personality (eg extroversion, boredom proneness) Mental Health Capacity: Higher intelligence people should find the same task easier to perform so less challenging and stimulating. But, qual overload can mean people can be bored on complex tasks which exceed their abilities too. Is there U shape to boredom experience when learning a new task ? at frts hard so boring, then optimally challenging, then boring cos too easy. Personality: extroversions require more stimulation to maintain optimal levels of arousal so are more easily bored (Eyesenck 1967, Garner& Cummings 1988). However, not so straight-forward ? extroverts may be better at seeking stimulation, espec in social contxts, and thus better able to reduce boredom (Hill & Perkins 1985) Mental health ? pathologically bored individuals either repressed or failed to develop capacity to perceive stimulation in activities and focus their attention like normals. Capacity: Higher intelligence people should find the same task easier to perform so less challenging and stimulating. But, qual overload can mean people can be bored on complex tasks which exceed their abilities too. Is there U shape to boredom experience when learning a new task ? at frts hard so boring, then optimally challenging, then boring cos too easy. Personality: extroversions require more stimulation to maintain optimal levels of arousal so are more easily bored (Eyesenck 1967, Garner& Cummings 1988). However, not so straight-forward ? extroverts may be better at seeking stimulation, espec in social contxts, and thus better able to reduce boredom (Hill & Perkins 1985) Mental health ? pathologically bored individuals either repressed or failed to develop capacity to perceive stimulation in activities and focus their attention like normals.

21. Appraisal of Boredom What symptom leads to identification of the emotion? Environmental cues? Defence against personal responsibility? When will an individual label his/her state as boredom rather than sleepiness, dislike of task, distraction of other activities? Environental cues eg manipulate clock to show time going slowly ? leads to more perceptions of boredom. (London & Monell 1974) Manipulate background noise ? people more likely to attribute difficulty in concentrating to noise rather than boredom. (Damrad-Frye & Laird 1989) Personal responsibility: external v internal attribution ? eg the task is so boring I couldn?t finish it rather than it was too hard. When will an individual label his/her state as boredom rather than sleepiness, dislike of task, distraction of other activities? Environental cues eg manipulate clock to show time going slowly ? leads to more perceptions of boredom. (London & Monell 1974) Manipulate background noise ? people more likely to attribute difficulty in concentrating to noise rather than boredom. (Damrad-Frye & Laird 1989) Personal responsibility: external v internal attribution ? eg the task is so boring I couldn?t finish it rather than it was too hard.

22. Responses to Boredom Refocus attention on task Seek additional stimulation

23. Current Study: Aims To investigate the experience of boredom outside of those professions traditionally examined in order to gain a better understanding of the experience of workplace boredom. To begin to develop a model that will map the causes, contributors and moderators of workplace boredom whilst identifying short- and long-term consequences for the individual and their organisation. To accumulate data that will allow a quantitative measure to be designed for the second stage of this on-going research that will test and refine the model developed. In this case, teachers are studied, but this is the first stage of an on-going research programme that will include other professions. This should enable individuals and organisations to recognise when boredom is a problem and to develop strategies (other than counting window panes, which was one of the strategies suggested by a respondent in the current survey) to combat boredom when it occurs. In this case, teachers are studied, but this is the first stage of an on-going research programme that will include other professions. This should enable individuals and organisations to recognise when boredom is a problem and to develop strategies (other than counting window panes, which was one of the strategies suggested by a respondent in the current survey) to combat boredom when it occurs.

24. Design: A (mainly) qualitative questionnaire was designed and administered. Method: 86 teachers in schools and colleges were recruited to take part in the study. Materials: The questionnaire was designed by using current knowledge about workplace boredom from previous research to develop a causes-experience-consequences framework that is hoped, will eventually lead to the development of the model. Design: This forms Stage 1 of a wider piece of research which is to design a quantitative questionnaire aimed at tapping the experiences of a far wider pool of participants. At this initial stage, qualitative measures were used in order to obtain a pool of information that could be used to design the next stage of the research. The advantage of qualitative methods at this stage is that the responses are not constrained or directed by the opinions of the author; the information has to be generated by the respondent, thus providing a more objective set of data for this initial phase. Method: They were obtained through opportunity sampling of five schools/colleges in East Lancashire. The Head Teacher or other contact teacher for each institution was sent a pack containing an introductory letter and a pack of Experience of Boredom questionnaires, each with a stamped addressed envelope attached. Design: This forms Stage 1 of a wider piece of research which is to design a quantitative questionnaire aimed at tapping the experiences of a far wider pool of participants. At this initial stage, qualitative measures were used in order to obtain a pool of information that could be used to design the next stage of the research. The advantage of qualitative methods at this stage is that the responses are not constrained or directed by the opinions of the author; the information has to be generated by the respondent, thus providing a more objective set of data for this initial phase. Method: They were obtained through opportunity sampling of five schools/colleges in East Lancashire. The Head Teacher or other contact teacher for each institution was sent a pack containing an introductory letter and a pack of Experience of Boredom questionnaires, each with a stamped addressed envelope attached.

25. Findings: Causes of Boredom (task) Routine = 43 Paperwork = 19 Marking = 17 (52% of a sample targeted during exam time) Meetings = 14 Other causes: boring training prgrammes, report-writing, exam invigiation Routine = 43 Paperwork = 19 Marking = 17 (52% of a sample targeted during exam time) Meetings = 14 Other causes: boring training prgrammes, report-writing, exam invigiation

26. Findings: Causes of Boredom (environment) ?The work is repetitive? 29% ?There is too much paperwork? 50% ?Another person bores me? 15% The work is not demanding enough? 16% ?The work is too demanding? 9%

27. Causes of boredom (person factors) ?Unambitous people may not mind boring jobs? ?Tiredness makes me more prone to boredom? ?Being proactive makes me less prone? ?Being intelligent makes me more prone ? some tasks are not challenging enough? ?I have a short attention span? ?I am less prone because I have a good imagination? ?I need variety? ?I like to be active so I am more prone to boredom? ?I like to see results quickly? ?I need constant stimulation?

28. Coping Strategies (Responses to Boredom)

29. What does boredom feel like? Time passing slowly = 19 Wasting time = 7 Frustrating/irritating = 12 Tiredness = 28 Miserable/depressing = 13 ?being crushed by a heavy weight? ?it?s like a waiting game? ?brain is going to sleep? ?bordeom seems to make time stand still? ?it feels like the day has suddenly got longer and my brain cells are dying? Time passing slowly = 19 Wasting time = 7 Frustrating/irritating = 12 Tiredness = 28 Miserable/depressing = 13 ?being crushed by a heavy weight? ?it?s like a waiting game? ?brain is going to sleep? ?bordeom seems to make time stand still? ?it feels like the day has suddenly got longer and my brain cells are dying?

30. What are the consequences of being bored?

31. Today?s workplace: Increasing automation Technology as interface Mounting paperwork Constant meetings Growth of the service industry Health and safety legislation New working practices (eg call centres) 24/7 working culture Rise in need for ?self-actualisation? Mann, The Boredom Boom, The Psychologist February 2007


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