Are you bored at work?

Are you bored at work?

July 11, 2022 0 By Rick

Do you find it hard to be engaged in your work? If so, you’re not alone; I’ve been there myself. In fact, you’re far from it! Studies in the U.S. have shown that around 70% of people are not engaged in their work, and another 18% hate what they’re doing. And it’s not just because your work is boring. I recently read an interesting book “Alive at Work,” by Dan Cable, a Professor of Organizational Behavior at London Business School. In his book, Cable explores an exciting aspect of neuroscience – our brains have a part called the ventral striatum, which functions as a “seeking system” that pushes us to explore boundaries and urges us to be curious without us realizing it. “We constantly seek out new information to keep our minds sharp, and when tasks get repetitive, we get bored and move on. But what if you can’t move on? What if the tasks are your job and you have to repeat them day after day to keep a roof over your head? Then you’re up that proverbial excrement creek without a paddle! That’s why boredom has become an epidemic, according to Cable.” Whatever happened to the curiosity we had when we were young?

Naturally curious
Young children, for example, are naturally curious and get bored quickly. How long does the average 6-month-old stay interested in the same toy? It usually doesn’t take long for them to move on to the next exciting object they see. Why, because it’s new and more interesting. “It’s the new and the desire to learn. And evolutionarily, this seeker system was developed to help us keep learning,” according to Cable. He then posits that this could give us insight into why we disengage from boring work. OK, so why is that a problem? Well, believe it or not, we spend more time at work than we do with our families. If we look at work as something we have to struggle through to get to the wonderful weekend, it’s going to affect the performance and productivity of organizations.

Removing curiosity from the job
Let’s look at how we used to work a long time ago. Back then, stores that made their products were staffed by maybe five people, and they usually knew just about everything about whatever they sold – from manufacturing to sales and to customer satisfaction. Of course, with so few employees, the stores could only turn out and sell a few “widgets” a day. At some point, someone figured out that we could become highly efficient by breaking work down into really small tasks where people no longer saw the entire process but instead focused only on their specific job, removing the meaning of the work they were doing. And guess what? That was the idea – to remove curiosity from the job.

For people like Henry Ford, curiosity was a problem that affected quality, and he needed to stamp it out. Management practices today feature control systems, rewards and punishments to get us to carry out extremely tedious tasks repeatedly. Consequently, in large organizations, we lose sight of the bigger picture and who uses the final product. But what about small organizations? “If you’re just starting up and you’ve only got 30 or 50 people working there everybody is curious. Everybody is doing everything. There aren’t tight role descriptions. The job titles are not burned into your flesh,” according to Cable. You can be a jack-of-all-trades, and you’re not expected to stay in your own lane like in large organizations. And that keeps us from getting bored and disengaged.

What can we do about it?
So now we know the “why,” but what can we do about it, especially if we really need our current jobs? If I had the answer to that, you’d be paying thousands of dollars to hear me speak instead of reading my blog for free. I keep struggling to find the answer, but I think it all comes back to what my father told me as a young man. “Find your passion and then find your job!” If you do that, the chance that you’ll become bored and disengaged is pretty small. After all, it’s only called work if you’d rather be somewhere else. Still, if you find yourself in a job you dislike and that bores you, can you still make the best of that situation? Exciting new research says it’s possible. In the meantime, many of us “sheeple” will keep on banging the rocks together and hoping for a change.