Pulling the Rabbit out of the Hat… Chronic boredom at work

This might sound like a bit of an odd question – but how many of your colleagues have you seen eating chocolate today? Is there a stash of Green and Black’s in your PA’s desk drawer? Or is the person who sits next to you getting into the Easter spirit early with a sneaky Cadbury’s Creme Egg?

Now I’m not suggesting you turn into the Chocolate Police – but be warned, research suggests that people who regularly succumb to the sweet stuff at work do so because, quite frankly, they’re a bit bored.

The folk at theUniversity of Central Lancashire School of Psychology surveyed a bunch of office workers recently and concluded that at least a quarter of them were suffering from chronic boredom. Their strategy for getting through the ennui of the day? Regular chocolate hits, a serious coffee habit and a swift half after work.  People, it seems, are simply not being stretched enough by their jobs and are turning to ‘props’ such as chocolate to make their day that bit more interesting.

I’m making light of what is actually quite a serious subject. In the current difficult climate, companies need everyone to be performing at their peak – but if people are being given work that doesn’t really challenge them they will simply coast along in their usual routine, staying in their comfort zone rather than reaching for the stars.

Of course one way to overcome this problem and shift performance up a gear is to set ‘stretch’ goals. That means giving people projects that require them to develop new skills, expand their network or get involved in new activities.  Goals that take them outside of the status quo will also challenge them to think differently, to find new ways of approaching old problems and to work smarter rather than harder.

A word of caution however. There is a fine line between an energising, challenging, motivating goal – and a target that is so unachievable that people will either burn out or decide it’s impossible and give up before they’ve even started.

The key to success is for managers to involve employees in the goal-setting process, rather than to simply impose targets from on high. If people feel they ‘own’ their goals they are much more likely to go the extra mile to achieve them.

Easter Eggs

Regular performance appraisals provide a great opportunity to talk to employees about what they enjoy doing and to set goals that allow them to play to their strengths. It’s a chance for everyone to get clear about priorities, expectations and how progress will be monitored and measured.

Of course you can’t just set a challenging stretch goal and expect employees to pull the rabbit out of the hat completely unaided. They need to be clear about how the work they are doing on the ground fits into the bigger business picture. They need regular check-ins to discuss progress and highlight any issues. They will, most likely, also need support in terms of some kind of skills development to help them meet the targets they have been set.

The latest performance management software can do much to support this process by helping managers track progress against what’s been agreed and by providing a timely nudge when the next appraisal or informal chat is due.

Employees will, of course, also want to know how they will be rewarded for their efforts. May I politely suggest that if it’s not yet time for the annual pay rise or bonus, an Easter Egg would go down a treat as an interim reward.

I wish you a Happy Easter and a cupboard full of chocolate to help fend off the ‘boredom’ of the long weekend.

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