Study: Illegitimate tasks make employees both bored and exhausted
Almost every other employee experiences boredom at work, and many of them are chronically exhausted at the same time. The study investigated the experiences of 2,700 employees in the UK and in Finland.
An international study by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and Emlyon Business School corrects common misconceptions about the causes of employee ill-being. Instead of only looking at the amount of work, it is essential to focus on making sure that the tasks employees do are relevant to their job description.
Approximately 40–50% of employees report being regularly bored at work.
“Temporary boredom would be normal, but prolonged boredom indicates ill-being that needs to be addressed,” says Assistant Professor Lotta Harju from Emlyon Business School in France.
The joint research project of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and Emlyon Business School investigated the experiences of Finnish and British employees with boredom and chronic exhaustion. The article was published in the prestigious Journal of Vocational Behavior.
There are misconceptions about the causes of employee ill-being
The experience of boredom may be accompanied by burnout and chronic exhaustion. They are not mutually exclusive.
“It’s a misconception that boredom is caused by not having enough work, and burnout by having too much work,” Lotta Harju says.
Too little work is very rarely the main reason why someone gets bored at work. Hindrances to working play a significant role.
“Hindrances to working are the bad guys of work life and cause both boredom and burnout. These include, for example, red tape and miscellaneous tasks that shouldn’t be part of one’s role in the first place. These hindrances make work stressful and unpleasant,” says Piia Seppälä, Specialist Researcher at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.
The researchers recommend clarifying job descriptions
Boredom at work should be better recognised than it is at present, so that the stress it causes can be reduced using the right methods at workplaces and in occupational health care.
“Usually, the workload is automatically reduced when a person doesn’t feel well. It’s thought that the person has had too much work. When it comes to boredom, it’s more important to consider whether the employee is doing essential or unnecessary tasks,” Harju says.
The researchers recommend reviewing the job description together with the employee. They think there is a problem when the calendar of someone who is doing expert work is filled with meetings and requests from others, leaving no time for doing the core tasks.
“A person can be exhausted and bored at the same time. Simply cutting down on tasks can increase boredom. It’s better to think about how to clarify the goals and enrich the job description based on them,” Piia Seppälä says.
“In our previous research, we also found that crafting one’s own job by accepting new challenging tasks increased work engagement, which is the opposite of boredom. At the same time, the risk of burnout decreased,” says Research Professor Jari Hakanen from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.
Research article: Harju, L. K., Seppälä, P., & Hakanen, J. J. (2023). Bored and exhausted? Profiles of boredom and exhaustion at work and the role of job stressors. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 144
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