How to cope with workplace boredom

By on June 9, 2014

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 percent, compared with 15 percent for ‘watching TV’, 12 percent for ‘sleeping’, and four percent 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 percent boost in productivity, or even a five percent one, if we still allowed people to maintain most of their current online leisure time.

The second 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.

At least the 2014 World Cup will be played after office hours. This means no extra work interruptions to watch footie and a lot more online leisure time dedicated to the consumption of World Cup-related blogs, news, and replays.

This is not just good for the World Cup organisers, but also for employees. 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?

So, at least for football fans, the World Cup promises to provide a wealth of engaging content to make time-wasting at work more entertaining and intellectually stimulating. Furthermore, social media can also postpone World Cup withdrawal symptoms.

– Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is a professor of business psychology at UCL, VP of innovation at Hogan Assessments and co-founder of metaprofiling.com.

Follow Professor Chamorro-Premuzic on Twitter at @drtcp.

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