How to cope with workplace boredom

By on March 23, 2015

We spend a large proportion of our working day online. Does this mean we are less productive?

What does online leisure time replace? A recent survey by the National Bureau of Economic Research asked people a very simple question: ‘What are you not doing when you are online?’

The most common answer, by far, was ‘working’ – 35%, compared with 15% for ‘watching TV’, 12% for ‘sleeping’, and 4% for ‘relaxing and thinking’. If this is true, there are two potential implications.

The first is that people are a lot less productive than they could be. Consider the economic implications of a 35% boost in productivity, or even a 5% one, if we still allowed people to maintain most of their current online leisure time.

The second – alternative – explanation is that most employees are spending more time at work than needed. Indeed, if online leisure time does not harm productivity, then why pay people to spend that time at work? Really, there’s nothing wrong with accepting that we cannot keep people busy enough at work – it is certainly cheaper than paying them to waste time at work.

From employees’ point of view, the only problem is that online leisure time makes work – or at least being at work – less boring. So, ironically, the very activity that serves as a coping mechanism for the underlying boringness of work keeps them at the job for longer than needed.

In other words, instead of trying to find a more interesting or engaging job, employees put up with unrewarding and mediocre jobs because they are spending a great deal of their working day on social media. In that sense, the internet is to work what porn, prostitution and extramarital affairs are to relationships.

There is an increasing tendency for online leisure activities to elicit boredom – for instance, how many times a day can you look at your Facebook or Twitter feed, or how many Buzzfeed quizzes a day can you complete?

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