Workers who misbehave or are counterproductive may just be bored, say university researchers.
In fact, say some experts, boredom is actually a symptom of disengagement, and HR leaders might need to redesign work roles or introduce more flexible work times and workspaces to alleviate boredom and foster innovation. Perhaps the best antidote for HR is to help bored workers see the larger purpose of their efforts within their organizations, customers and communities, they say.
According to a research study of U.S. employees by Kari Bruursema and Paul E. Spector at the University of South Florida and Stacey R. Kessler at Montclair State University, bored employees may direct their negative feelings toward other people by gossiping, getting into arguments or being nasty to employees or clients.
They may also act out toward their organization, by purposely doing their job wrong, calling in sick when they are not, taking two-hour lunches or amusing themselves with websurfing or playing practical jokes instead of working, says Spector.
"HR managers and supervisors should be aware and a little concerned about boredom," Spector says. "Don't brush it off that boredom comes with the job, because the employee could become counterproductive if they are bored."
To lessen that chance, HR leaders should first try to select people who are well-suited for particular jobs that may induce boredom, such as data entry or manufacturing production lines, he says. Companies should design such positions to be interesting, he adds.
Lorrie Lykins, managing editor and director of research services at i4cp in St. Petersburg, Fla., says boredom may actually be the result of a confluence of factors, "not the least of which is the global economic downturn, which has been utterly exhausting."
"I wouldn't say employees are bored as much as they are traumatized," she says. As a result, many are now apathetic and have "paralyzing inertia."
"Managers now need to refocus on engaging employees, investing in employees, and that doesn't necessarily mean spending money -- although pay raises are important -- but time should be spent on coaching, mentoring, developing," Lykins says.
Max Caldwell, managing director at Towers Watson in Stamford, Conn., says employees may lack an emotional connection to the mission of their organization, their work may not be very challenging, they don't feel involved in decisions that affect them, or they have no idea how they really add value to the company or its customers.
"The good news is ... that HR leaders and managers can make a real difference. Think about the design of work itself, and how to build in more variety and train employees to handle more tasks."