Crisis #4 – Happy Below Capstone . . . But Doomed!

The Doom Loop was originally created to provide help and guidance for MBA students who were either starting out on a track toward upper level management positions or those who had already been on that track for some time. However, suggesting that everyone who has a job aspires to become a chief executive officer is ludicrous! In fact, most people who are employed are not MBA students or top management achievers but simply want to have a productive job that provides them with job satisfaction as well as a dependable paycheck so they can lead a happy and comfortable life. Most of the individuals who fall in this category do not even set as a career goal the first capstone position.

So if you are in the very common category of those who do not aspire to reach top management, you are quite normal – but rest assured that the Doom Loop is not ignoring you! And if you are a manager of an organization or department that consists of many employees who are looking for job satisfaction but aren’t getting it because of boredom on the job, you should have cause for concern. Boredom has a direct effect on productivity!

A recent Gallup report pointing out that 71% of the workforce is bored or frustrated on the job did not restrict its sample population to those individuals who have MBA degrees and are fighting their way up the corporate ladder. Far from that, the vast majority of the sample included those individuals with little or no capstone position aspirations.

For this large population of productive employees who do not seek managerial positions for any reason whatsoever, frustration and boredom on the job can be a real problem. The remedies for boredom and frustration generally are to get involved with activities that perhaps are not job related or to get involved with activities within the organization that require employee participation. The latter of these two remedies calls for an open line of communications between employee and employer. Employers need to be receptive to discussions about the natural causes of boredom.

A young woman who is a career medical technician and who enjoys her laboratory work had feelings of frustration and boredom on the job. She had gone into Q3 in a job she wanted to keep. Within her medical clinic, however, there were several committees that encouraged non-management employee participation. She joined a committee that focused on improving patient satisfaction with the clinic, and spent time with others devising ways to make patients who were visiting the clinic more comfortable. In a sense, this was a customer service committee that sought information from patients about their visits by using patient feedback forms where patients could express their level of satisfaction about their clinical visits. From this information, the committee could make recommendations and actually implement programs to address these patients’ concerns or suggestions. This participation expanded her work on the job and led to more job satisfaction and relief of her frustration and boredom.

An example of how an employee can become proactive and creative when faced with boredom on the job is the situation faced by Michelle who was a mid-level employee in the market research department of a large consumer packaged goods company. Changes in management led to her having a new boss with whom Michelle felt that she had fallen out of favor. The new responsibilities she was given were beneath her skills and experience, and she began feeling distinctly underutilized.

But far from withdrawing into a glum silence and a frustrated tolerance of the situation, Michelle faced the situation in a proactive way – not lamenting on her plight and thinking, “poor me!” She enthusiastically did her job while quietly drawing attention by seeking greater responsibilities and volunteering to participate in group projects. This positive attitude brought her to the positive attention of her boss who, fortunately, responded by assigning her to two group projects that were slightly unrelated to her job. These new activities and group involvement led to a change in her feelings on the job – essentially moving her from Q3 to Q2 where she began to feel a greater degree of job satisfaction, importance, and self-fulfillment.

Fortunately for Michelle, her boss had the foresight to listen to her concerns and her positive approach to her situation and responded constructively with the overall organization well-being in mind. She recognized that employee productivity results from a strong level of job satisfaction and took constructive steps toward providing a remedy for Michelle.

Douglas LaBier, a psychologist and the Director of the Center for Progressive Development in Washington, DC wrote a very constructive article about the causes and remedies for boredom in the workplace. This article which appeared in 2010 in the magazine Psychology Today is titled, “Feeling Bored at Work? Three Reasons Why and What Can Free You.”

Dr. LaBier provides excellent reasons why boredom on the job occurs, and offers individuals who are experiencing such boredom (i.e., Q3) the following steps which are quoted directly from his article the following advice to address this normal problem:

“Steps You Can Take To Liberate Yourself”
“The first step towards freeing yourself from any of [the various] kinds of boredom is seeing your situation with a clear eye. Step outside of your own narrow vantage point, rather than becoming trapped within it or blocked by feelings of frustration and resentment. When you use “creative indifference” you’re better able to [take the next steps and] direct your energy towards finding a better situation. That’s the “creative” part. For example:

• “List any situations, jobs, or creative projects from the past where you felt you were at your best, when things went really well. Identify the resources or conditions you had going for you that supported your success. What kinds of people were your co-workers or boss? Did they help or hinder? From that information, identify the specifics of the career and work environment that you really need to be at your best, including which to avoid, and make a list of all of them.

• Scope out any opportunities for more stimulation or greater challenge that you can spot within your present situation or organization. Ask around, or network to find things you may not have noticed yourself. Craft a strategy to pursue them.

• Meet with your boss and explain that you want to take on a greater challenge; or that you want to stretch in a new direction. How do you read his or her response in terms of your future there?

• Seek out an opportunity outside of work, maybe through a course, a seminar or workshop, or a volunteer opportunity, in order to learn something that enhances your existing skills or that builds new ones.”

“As you put together all of the above information and feedback, aim towards identifying the kind of work environment, people, organizational culture, or type of work you need that energizes you. List them, and compare them with your present situation. This will help you.”

Source: Douglas LaBier, Ph.D., is a psychologist and the Director of the Center for Progressive Development in Washington, DC. Psychology Today; May,2010

The simplest, but perhaps the most difficult remedy to address boredom on the job is to become proactive – not fall back into a stupor or negative trance. If becoming proactive in a positive sense does not remedy the situation, then perhaps you should consider either a different line of work or a different organization more receptive to addressing the normal condition of employee boredom.