Bored Out of Your Mind at Work?

Are you surprised by Gallup’s recent findings about disengaged workers costing companies over $450 billion in lost revenue? According to Gallup, 70% of workers aren’t working to their full potential. In all fairness, this isn’t always the fault of the workers, many of whom are lulled into complacency by the amount of time it takes to accomplish anything within a heavily bureaucratic structure. But there’s good news in that same report. Gallup estimates that almost all employees, a staggering 95%, say that culture is more important than compensation.

Culture doesn’t happen in isolation. It isn’t just a program that can be selectively deployed. It is the fabric of an organization, how people treat each other as well as their customers, challenges and opportunities.

Deliberate design of culture is the solution, but it isn’t a quick fix, especially as the business landscape continues to evolve constantly. When culture is deliberately designed, it shapes strategy and tactics, not the other way around. When culture isn’t deliberately designed, it emerges by default, and not to an organization’s advantage.

The only constant is change. The key to creating organizational culture is that it needs to be flexible enough to give teams and individuals room to maneuver. In many ways, culture today is the new social media, back when companies knew they had to deal with it but weren’t sure how, or whether they should bother. Culture was Merriam-Webster’s word of the year. Note that the definition focuses on “systematic behavior,” not something that happens once in a while. Your organization simply doesn’t have a reasonable chance of survival unless your culture can evolve to remain fit in the new world. If people are bored at work, employers are wasting their resources and the people who are bored are wasting their own most precious resource: time.

Think of it in personal terms. A marriage is on the rocks because the husband loves to communicate his innermost feelings and feels that his wife never listens. She’s always staring down at her phone, let’s say. So they go to a counselor and the counselor gives them a method for good communication, which the wife then does exactly once at the session. The next time her husband feels neglected when she stares down at her phone, she has the option of reminding him that she did listen that once–in therapy, remember? But this is a recipe for divorce. Instead, the couple (like all healthy partnerships and organizations), needs to pay attention to systematic behaviors and consistently practice them. You can’t just do something once or a handful of times and expect to satisfy the ongoing demands of reality. Culture is showing up and being present in the manner demanded by an organization’s own style and business needs.

One of the problems is that for too many organizations, the culture is simply driven by bureaucracy. Once this happens, it almost doesn’t matter where you work. An organization loses its character. For most companies, this is a completely unsustainable reality. It’s extremely expensive, for starters, and it palliates the workforce until they no longer care about the extinction events or less pressing threats looming on the horizon, unless their own jobs will immediately be impacted.

Culture is what everyone does everyday. Culture is the tone of the emails and the number of people who are copied on them. Culture is the gossip in the hallways. Culture is the way people laugh, or don’t laugh, together. Culture is how decisions are made. Culture is how you deal with the unexpected, and how you manage opportunities and threats. Culture is how much energy or apathy you feel in the workplace. Culture is consistent. It is the navigation system of an organization, and without deliberate design, there’s less chance for survival as your company deals with rapid transformation. There is no forever new culture these days, only the direction in which a team or an organization is trending in order to reach its goals.

And on the subject of boredom–my mother always told my brother and me that only boring people get bored. What she meant, really, is that it wasn’t her job to keep us entertained. If you’re bored, figure out something to do to invigorate your life with energy again.

Time is ticking.

Rita King
About the author: 

Based in New York, Rita King is Director and Executive Vice President at Science House, a strategic consultancy that specializes in aligning business goals with collaborative strategies. She is also a futurist at the Science and Entertainment Exchange of the National Academy of Sciences, and also served as futurist at NASA Langley’s think tank, the National Institute for Aerospace, focusing on the future of work and education. Her features have appeared in/on The New York Times, Psychology Today, Al Jazeera, TIME, CNN, Fox News, NPR and the BBC.  Follow her on Twitter.