In the UK, 40 per cent of workers report feeling bored at work. In Australia, a study found that the average worker spends 6 hours per week bored and unproductive. At the same time similar proportions of workers report suffering from stress, anxiety, and overwork. All of these combine to reduce productivity and to create a high-strung and toxic work environment.

Stress at work.

What may not be obvious to employers is that all these problems are often part of the same bigger issue. Boredom, stress, anxiety, and a sense of being overwhelmed are not mutually exclusive, and are often the result of the same set of symptoms. Those symptoms all trace back to the ultimate problem: poor management.

What causes boredom, stress, and anxiety at work?

We know that workers mostly aren’t bored and unproductive just because they have nothing to do. In fact, only 27 per cent of workers surveyed cited a lack of work as the reason for their boredom. Instead, they overwhelmingly indicated that tedious work, poorly executed meetings, and a lack of task diversity caused the problem.

Meeting fatigue

Workers commonly report being bored due to an excessive number of mandatory and unnecessary meetings. Studies on workplace stress also cite workers being kept away from their responsibilities by unnecessarily long meetings that often don’t merit the attendance of many of the people present. This perfectly illustrates the problem. Workers in these meetings have little to contribute, little to gain by being there, and are left feeling bored with nothing to think about except all the work that they can’t do during this lost time. By the time they finish their meetings, they feel mentally exhausted and stressed, and aren’t as productive as they could be.

Lack of meaning

Nearly half of workers surveyed stated that their work simply wasn’t interesting, while a third indicated that the work wasn’t challenging enough. This is often because workers don’t see the meaning or the value of what they do at work. Employees need to know how their work is connected to the company’s overall objective, why they are important, and what doing good work means for themselves, the business overall, and their clients.

Lack of diversity and scope

Monotony can turn even an interesting job into a tedious chore. Workers need a variety of responsibilities and tasks to keep them occupied, and to allow them to build a relatively rounded view of the company and how they fit in. Overly one-sided jobs can be mentally and emotionally taxing, and make it ultimately more difficult for employees to stay fresh and focused throughout the day.

Good management is key

At the end of the day, all of these symptoms trace their way back to the ultimate problem, which is poor leadership. Managers and business owners are responsible for how their workers spend their time, and what their responsibilities are. Even in relatively flat hierarchies, they create the culture that allows these inefficiencies to emerge. While great management is something that requires extensive study and experience, there are a few relatively simple things leaders can do to begin to alleviate these issues.

1. Clearly define the scope of every job

Not only is it difficult to describe individual jobs very clearly, entrepreneurs may also find it convenient not to. An employee with very vaguely defined responsibilities can more easily be shuffled around and loaded up with with a wider variety of tasks. This is problematic, however, because it can prevent managers from spotting problems.

If you can’t define what someone’s job is, it’s unclear exactly which meetings are relevant, how meaningful their job feels, and how monotonous their actual daily tasks are. A more rigid approach is initially more labour intensive, but also gives managers a clearer picture of what their employees’ workdays are like, allowing them to spot and address potential problems sooner.

2. Educate employees about your industry

It’s surprisingly common for low-level employees to understand relatively little about their business beyond their specific job. This makes their jobs less interesting, and directly reduces the quality of your work. For example, a human resources employee at a medium-sized IT company may very well know relatively little about IT, while finding themselves responsible for talent acquisition. Without much industry background, the best this employee can do is to run down a checklist of the qualifications a given department is looking for. This leads to a tedious search that will most likely result in a list of candidates that reasonably matches what the company needs.

A well informed employee that is well educated about exactly what the business does and how it works, on the other hand, will actually understand what they’re looking at when reading applicant resumes or actively scouting for candidates. They’ll be able to make much more nuanced and complex decisions about different potential candidates, while also feeling far more engaged in their task.

Good managers serve both their business and their team. They shape their team’s work lives in a way that maximises productivity for the company, whilst also ensuring engagement by fighting boredom and stress. By understanding what causes these issues, business owners and managers can build healthier company cultures, and a more productive business.