Leaders who are willing to delegate important and visible tasks give employees room to grow. As leaders’ trust in those employees grows, so, too, does employee confidence, and it becomes a self-fulfilling cycle of risk and reward. Leaders who empower their teams ensure employees are constantly learning and never bored.
Until they are. What happens when employees’ daily tasks bore them to tears? From cold calls to data entry, many routine tasks make employees feel creatively stifled. But leaders can ensure these workers don’t lose their enthusiasm.
When boredom strikes
A psychiatrist from Cleveland Clinic proved that Cleveland Clinic proved that boredom is good for kids. By giving children downtime, their creative tendencies go into overdrive. This can lead to random, unstructured, and exciting ideas.
The same thinking should apply to employees, right? Not exactly. Michael Lopp, the vice president of Slack, says, “Bored people quit.” Research bears this out: The 2016 Udemy Workplace Boredom Study found that bored employees are twice as likely to leave, and employee morale and productivity take a hit when boredom sets in.
Lopp says, “The reality is that someone is going to tell you they’re bored quietly and when you least expect it. They’ll tell you halfway through your 1:1, and they won’t use the word bored. They’ll say something innocuous like, ‘…and I really don’t know what to do next,’ and you’re going to blow right by the most important thing they’ve said in a while.”
In my experience, the people who master tasks — and get bored — fastest are the most capable. They learn to quickly apply knowledge across areas and anticipate problems. One employee spent two years managing a project for me, and I could tell boredom was overtaking his excitement. I approached him with two new projects, and I have no doubt he would have left if I hadn’t thrown him a life preserver.
How to get beyond boredom
Leaders don’t have to lose employees to stagnation. Even if routine tasks have to get done, they don’t have to feel routine.
- Inject creative flexibility. If you’re handing off tasks like cold calling, employees don’t have to follow a template. That may make things more efficient, but that’s not necessarily most important when you’re working to keep a high performer. Give employees the latitude to pursue creative ways to carry out their tasks, or challenge them to test new methods. Experiments and risk can inject excitement.
Jeff Winters, the CEO of Sapper Consulting, explained that things like cold calls and cold emails actually benefit from creativity. “When it comes to writing these emails, the key is that the focus isn’t from the perspective of a salesperson or marketing person. You have to approach it like someone who writes movies or TV shows or does improv — an entertainer perspective will win a lot more responses than a business perspective,” he says.
- Seek their expertise. While being an expert at their daily tasks can make employees feel competent, having their boss seek out their insights can supercharge that capable feeling. Employees don’t need to take over an entire project or absorb additional responsibilities to feel the impact, either: Just being asked can make a difference.
I work with some talented people who are always giving and grateful when I ask for their help. They love to share their talents and experience to help the business move forward. In my experience, asking others to give their expertise fosters trust. It’s also a chance to be vulnerable and seek out answers from others.
- Create collaborative opportunities. If one employee’s bored, others probably are, too. One way to get them thinking outside their respective boxes is to have them work together. Gaining insight into how others think — and trying their hand at new tasks — can reinvigorate their love for their daily work and get them off the hamster wheel.
One leader I spoke with had a developer gaining an interest in social media work. To dip her toe in, he had her work with his social media director on a campaign for a new release. Not only did the developer enjoy the work, but the director told him, “Getting some fresh ideas made my job a thousand times easier.”
Boredom creeps in when we least expect it — and we don’t notice until it’s too late. Keep an eye out for signs that employees are feeling more disinterested than empowered. If you can offer ways to flex their creative muscles or try something new, you might keep an employee — and discover some seriously valuable assets in the process.