Don’t display apathy toward boredom


Boredom is a forbidden topic among many people because it is poorly understood.

Perhaps one of the following clichés has left your lips when someone expressed boredom: We’re not here to entertain you. You’ve got a bad attitude. Find something to do if you’re bored.

Boredom is particularly discomforting to people who fear that open expressions of it will upset the apple cart by infecting others.

Some people become suspicious of me when they find out that I study boredom (as it relates to learning, memory and routine).

There’s no doubt that some workers initiate trouble when they grow tired of their jobs. In the study of boredom and interest, we call this kind of behavior “manufactured excitement.”

It’s bad for business, and there’s no defense for it. But when you have good reason to be bored with your job, you might want to take wholesome initiative to perk things up.

I used to work with a mechanic named Clyde who entertained himself (and the mechanics in the other 12 bays) by singing aloud. He never ran out of songs or energy.

One day, he told the dealership owner, “Death ends all things.”

“No, it doesn’t,” the owner countered.

That gave Clyde another theme to sing about. His themes were pretty funny, and since he was a good, honest mechanic, his job was secure.

Clyde’s approach was extreme, but who doesn’t want to find meaning in work? Meaning can bring a lot of enjoyment. Smart supervisors realize this, because even they yearn to find meaning in their jobs. Most of them work long hours and draw strength from a motivated, well-behaved workforce.

Dealing with monotony and meaninglessness can be quite difficult for both management and employees, but the solution is the same whether we’re talking about doing family chores, being a CEO or operating a factory press.

To start with, there must be a way to make a job meaningful. The more potential there is for meaning, the more a person is likely to care about the job and to stay with the company.

Employees who have invested in formal education hope to find meaning by putting that investment to profitable use. Other employees hope to acquire knowledge and skill on the job.

In either case, is there potential for moving up? Is there potential for making more money by doing a better job? Is there potential for moving into a lateral, more desirable challenge?

Is there room for doing things that make the job more pleasant than it is now? When employees have a clear understanding of how they fit into the organization, they are better able to expand their horizons within the company. Management doesn’t often get this right.

Some people can survive a certain amount of monotony by making savings targets. They can calculate each hour of work as a percentage of expenses for a vacation, a canoe or a car. Or they can think of each month of specific experience as a concrete measure toward another position.

Workers who succeed in avoiding oppressive boredom tend to be grateful for their paychecks, patient in their progress toward goals and methodical in stepping toward them.

Employees who are not grateful for their jobs find that each hour holds another reason to complain, while workers who determine to find or create meaning in their jobs are more likely to raise the quality of life for everyone around them — employees, management, customers.

Don’t automatically classify boredom as an indicator that someone is lazy or isn’t a team player.

Think of boredom as a type of pain that can be hard to diagnose and treat.

Look at it this way: If an employee trips on a power cord and strikes his ear on a toolbox, you’re not going to tell him he needs an attitude adjustment. You’ll look into the source of pain (a supervisor certainly would).

Adding meaning or pleasure is profitable for an organization, but it can be a complex issue in workflows in which each individual is assigned a very different responsibility.

A few companies have been requiring employees to switch tasks throughout the day in order to keep them fresh, alert and motivated.

Most employers don’t consider such an approach, because they think boredom is an attitude problem or that it’s just too scary to face.

If I were you, I would be very interested in boredom.

It can change a company, a school or a home for the better.

Max T. Russell is owner of Max and Max Communications and formerly taught Spanish in Southern Hancock schools. You can contact him through his website,