A recent study by supplemental insurance provider Aflac found that nearly 60% of workers have experienced at least moderate burnout, suggesting that the easing of the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t made their situation much better.
The pandemic prompted a large reconsideration of life goals and the perceived value of traditional work, leading to the Great Resignation and sounding alarms at companies that are now forced to pay more attention to work-life balance.
Aflac’s study respondents reported job performances slipping, with about 46% saying their work suffered in the past year and more than half of employers surveyed acknowledging that mental health issues have contributed to declines in their productivity.
But while employers could do more, a shift in mindset may help workers cope on their own. For many employees, thinking of work as really just a means to an end might be helpful. If boring tasks can be completed well and on time, it could be easier to excel at middle-effort work — especially knowing the reward is a paycheck that animates larger goals outside of the office.
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Working for the weekend, and beyond
There’s no denying corporate and entrepreneurial success depends on passions catalyzed by hard skills, persistence and relentless iteration.
Suzy Welch — co-founder of the Jack Welch Management Institute — once wrote there were only three instances in which someone should work “just for the paycheck.” One, she said, was philanthropy: “‘Effective altruists’ are people who are so committed to their social causes they seek high-paying careers primarily to maximize their ability to give away their earnings. For example, you may not mind working a 70-hour work week in order to fund a philanthropic initiative you support.”
But behind successful widgets and useful technologies are unheralded armies of employees who appreciate their work yet consider it strictly transactional: Hours of toil in exchange for currency that, in turn, funds their most personal and important pursuits.
A survey by LendingTree found that 50% of millennials and 46% of Gen Zers who responded had a side hustle.
“Millennials consider themselves multifaceted, and many pursue personal projects outside the office such as blogging, selling on Etsy, coding their own websites, building projects in their garages, or teaching yoga,” wrote Udemy for Business general manager Darren Shimkus in an Edtech Digest column.
By reframing “boring” work as vital to after-hours charity work, personal improvement or for entrepreneurial pursuits, an employee can come to terms with the less exciting aspects of their job by understanding its importance to other parts of their life.
A bored worker is a good worker, explained
Research backs up the idea that boredom can be rewarding for employers, too.
Authors in a study for the Academy of Management Discoveries found that boredom can generate spikes in creativity and lead to innovation, and psychologists generally agree that bouts of boredom can often lead to productivity gains.
“Our mind wanders and alternative goals and situations suddenly become salient to us,” wrote Andreas Elpidorou for an opinion piece titled The Bright Side of Boredom in Frontiers in Psychology. “If boredom is likened to an emotional trap, it is a trap that due to its own character fortunately ‘pushes’ us to escape from it.”
Researchers fascinated by boredom’s role in sparking creativity have increasingly reached similar conclusions: Vital but drab tasks eventually lead workers to explore motivations or tasks that lead to new experiences and opportunities.
Which means for both worker and manager, boredom can be pretty exciting.
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