A man working on a computer in an office in Helsinki. LEHTIKUVA

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A recent study by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and Emlyon Business School has shed light on a common issue in the workplace: the coexistence of boredom and chronic exhaustion among employees. The study, published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior, challenges the usual perceptions regarding the causes of employee ill-being, emphasizing the importance of task relevance rather than just the quantity of work.

The research, which surveyed Finnish and British employees, found that 40–50% of them regularly experience boredom at work. “Prolonged boredom is a sign of ill-being that needs addressing,” explains Assistant Professor Lotta Harju from Emlyon Business School. Contrary to popular belief, boredom at work is often not due to a lack of tasks but rather the presence of illegitimate tasks - those unrelated to an employee's job description.

These illegitimate tasks, including bureaucratic red tape and irrelevant miscellaneous duties, are major contributors to both boredom and burnout. “It’s a misconception that boredom comes from not having enough to do, and burnout from having too much,” says Lotta Harju.

The study suggests that resolving workplace boredom isn't as simple as reducing the workload. Piia Seppälä, a Specialist Researcher at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, recommends a review of job descriptions to ensure that employees are engaged in essential tasks. Focusing on the nature of the work, rather than just the volume, can prevent boredom and burnout.

The researchers also highlight the importance of job crafting, where employees take on new challenges that align with their interests and skills. “Engaging in job crafting can increase work engagement, the antithesis of boredom, and simultaneously decrease the risk of burnout,” notes Research Professor Jari Hakanen from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.

This study underscores the need for organizations to reassess how they assign tasks to employees, focusing on relevancy and engagement to combat boredom and exhaustion in the workplace. Such an approach could lead to a more satisfied and productive workforce.

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