People bored? Try job switching

Author Norman Mailer said, "Boredom slays more of existence than war." Maybe more of existence than war and traffic accidents combined, Chief Engineer Brigham Manheim mused.
By Raymond Dreyfack August 1, 1998

Author Norman Mailer said, “Boredom slays more of existence than war.”

Maybe more of existence than war and traffic accidents combined, Chief Engineer Brigham Manheim mused. Even though he enjoyed an executive’s increased freedom and flexibility, he too was often bored by his job. Lately he had been hearing that complaint from a growing number of engineers and paraprofessionals.

Jerry: “My assignments aren’t challenging enough.”

Ann: “I don’t have enough to do.”

Frank: “It’s the same thing again and again.”

Frank’s gripe hit home with the greatest impact. The same thing again and again. Repetition was at the crux of the problem. If you keep doing a task often enough it is bound to become boring.

Boredom is bad for people and bad for business. Manley Hall describes boredom as “the shriek of unused capacities.” Unused, or overused, Manheim thought. The question was what could he do about it? He decided to discuss the problem with his boss.

Question : If it were your problem to solve, what would you do about it?

Cochran’s decision: “It’s a coincidence that you bring up this subject,” Plant Engineer Oliver Cochran told Manheim. “It’s been bugging me lately that some of our good people seem to have lost their old spark and enthusiasm. Could be that’s the answer.”

“My feeling exactly,” Manheim replied. “The problem is so many tasks and projects are repetitive. It’s the nature of the work.”

“That’s true, but the answer may be if you can’t change the work, change the worker. No law says Carlson must always work on boiler problems. Or that Smith is the only guy to assign to combustion control systems. Or that Susie must do all the filing while Mary Beth does all the typing.”

“You’re talking about job variety,” the chief engineer said.

“Exactly. It will take some training and break-in, and may slow down some jobs at the outset. But if it relieves boredom and helps boost morale and enthusiasm it might be well worth the sacrifice.”

Manheim added, “It will also create greater skills flexibility when people are out sick or on vacation.”

“Right on,” Cochran said. “Let’s give it a try.”