Bored and Lazy: Engagement Killers

I spent Fat Tuesday with some new friends, a couple of guys I’ll call Jim and Joe. When Jim and Joe found out that I write and speak about employee engagement, they wanted to tell me their stories.

Joe works for a very large employer in the building maintenance field. He has responsibility for floor to ceiling–and everything in between–upkeep of a building complex. His employer offers rich benefits, things like a generous vacation, holiday and sick day package, full health care coverage for himself and his family, and pension once vested at the 5-years mark, a milestone Joe recently achieved.

Sounds great, I told Joe. Are you hiring? I joked.

You don’t want to work there, Joe said with seriousness. It’s a place that kills motivation.

When I pressed, Joe clarified what he meant.

I have a list of the things I’m supposed to do each day. And I’m not kidding, I can do the entire list in about 3 hours. When I started, I told my boss that I was bored and asked for more work. He told me to not rock the boat, and then he told me that I should appreciate that this would be the easiest job I’d ever have in my life.

So is it? I asked.

Do you know how hard it is to LOOK busy? I’ve become lazy. I know that it’s no excuse, but I feel like I have zero motivation to work hard. Actually, I have more pressure on me to slow down and do next to nothing. And the killer is that I make too much money to even consider leaving to start over.

Jim spoke up for the first time on the subject. Jim told me that a couple of years before, he took a promotion up the ladder in his company’s IT department, a position for a little more money…and a lot less challenge and fulfillment.

I know what Joe means, Jim agreed. My current job is so routine a child could do it. I’m bored out of my mind.

Do you mean you’re bored most of the time, like 80% of the time? Or just some of the time? I wanted to know.

Let me answer it this way. Yesterday, I found a coding problem in a test program, Jim gave as an example. He summarized the issue by saying this: I spent a half a day fixing a problem that didn’t need to be fixed. But do you know why I did it? I haven’t coded in years. It pushed me to think hard, something I’m rarely asked to do at work.


What’s the point of my Fat Tuesday story? Old school Theory X managers think that their employees are lazy individuals who spend most of their days actively finding ways to avoid work. When that happens, realize that you might be the cause of that problem. In most cases, employees want more responsibility along with more meaningful, challenging work. Your leadership can promote motivation and drive employees to use their best efforts. Or your leadership can suck the drive and desire from them.

Managers, sometimes this old saying is true: Expect nothing from people, and you’ll never be disappointed. But even more true is this: Expect that your employees are ready, willing and able to achieve great things, and you’ll not be disappointed.

Rust from boredom kills employees faster than wear and tear from hard work. Be known as a boss who challenges and motivates employees to accomplish meaningful work. You’re doing no one favors with you allow and encourage your employees to site idle.


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