BORRRRING!!! Dealing with boredom at the front line

I am a bored hotel front desk worker on an overnight shift, AMA.

“Like the title says, hotel front desk worker, boring overnight shift, please for the love of God ask me anything to help keep me awake.”

Bored at work – help!

“I am at work this week – I have coped the last 2 days but I have now reached an all time boredom high.

I have read my usual web sites, bored of playing on my i-phone, cant play any computer games (I can get on the Internet but it is work so no games)…

Any ideas that will get me through the next few hours?”

What’s the professional way to say that I’m bored to tears?

I’m bored at work, to the point where I frequently cry at my desk. I want to talk to my manager about it, but I need a script. This is my first office job, and I don’t have a lot of experience with this part of the whole working professional deal. Can you help me?

I recently came across the above chats from a couple of sites. The first one is from a Reddit user by name MrsHazel. The second was from someone by name ‘lynesman” on the chat page of gaming site, www.mmo-champion.com. The third one was culled from https://ask.metafilter.com from a user by name topoisomerase.

I initially found their various pleas quite amusing. However, upon second thought, it dawned on me that these individuals in question were really crying out for help. They were all making genuine pleas to be helped out of a real predicament. I particularly felt bad for the new staff who cries because of how bored the one was.

The truth is that the blight of boredom in the work place is something that plagues many people in many organisations from all over the world. Defined by University of East Anglia senior lecturer Annilee M. Game as “an unpleasant, transient affective state in which the individual feels a pervasive lack of interest in and difficulty concentrating on the current activity,” boredom is not something to be scoffed at.

By its very definition, boredom is unpleasant. If someone can be so bored that the one begins to shed tears, then boredom is no laughing matter. It is as real and as painful as described by the individuals at the onset of this piece. Boredom might not kill one literally but, the truth is that, when one is really bored, the feeling is simply unbearable. Boredom can be so nerve-wracking that it is no wonder that people try to do just about anything to take away the boredom.

Many professionals dread waking up and going to work just because they are bored to death during working hours. Several studies have the proven the grievousness of boredom at work. The figures vary quite considerably with some studies claiming that only about 15% of employees experience feelings of boredom at work. There is however another study that places the percentage of bored employees at as high as 87%. Whatever the percentage of sufferers, boredom is a real problem faced by many professionals including those whose jobs it is to directly serve customers.

But do those at the front desk also suffer from boredom? Of course they also do. Just ask MrsHaizel, our Reddit friend from the opening chat. It does not matter what unit, department or work schedule an individual is on, if the causes of boredom are present, the one would begin to suffer from boredom.

So what are some of the causes of boredom at the front line?

Among the culprits is the repetitive nature of the work people do. It might start out alright but after a while the sheer monotony would begin to sap out the joy in the venture and before long, full-blown boredom would set in. If your job is to stamp a batch of tickets all day, it would take some real effort for you not to get bored by midday.

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It has also been proven that low levels of nutrition and inadequate sleep also has an effect on whether one suffers from boredom or not. A lack of mental stimulation has also been detected to be one of the causes of boredom. Closely, related to the lack of stimulation is an inability of the individual to enter, what is popularly referred to as “the state of flow.”

Boredom might not literally be a matter of life or death. However, it is still something that must be dealt with since it affects the fortunes of the organisation in more ways than one. For instance, looking bored at the front desk is not aesthetically-appealing. It does not bode well for the image of the organisation for a customer to walk and see those at the front line looking as bored as children on a long journey with nothing to occupy their attention. Or like a group of English literature students listening to an old professor lecture on quantum physics.

There is another reason why it is a problem when front line staff begin to suffer from boredom. There is enough evidence that unhappy employees do not make for happy customers. The popular equation is happy employees=happy customers=happy shareholders. Therefore if customer-handling staff become bored to the point of unhappiness, then it stands to reason that it is customer service that will begin to suffer. It will be very difficult to imagine a bored customer-handling employee giving customers a great experience.

One can only give what one has. If the one is bored, it will take a miracle for the one to give a customer an exciting experience. Customers are able to pick up on the mood of the one serving them and if the customer senses that the person is bored, the customer will pick up on that signal.

How does an individual such as those introduced at the beginning of the piece go about surviving an attack of boredom?

For one, a customer-handling professional must necessarily be inquisitive—not in the negative sense normally associated with those who are inquisitive—but inquisitive in the sense of always wanting to learn more. Any spare time the front desk professional has must be seen as an opportunity to read, or learn something new.

I have seen a number of front-line staff attempt to occupy their time by watching the television at the front office or reception area. I do not subscribe to that practice. It smacks of unprofessionalism. I do not think the television set was put at the front office for employees to watch while whiling away time. It is meant for the use of customers and that should be its sole purpose.

Sometimes, the solution must come from higher up. If it is known that a particular front desk job schedule is prone to prolonged periods of inactivity, it behoves on Management to find ways of engaging those on that schedule. Ideally, the individuals on that schedule should find ways of engaging themselves. However, if they do not and prefer to while away the time on the phones or watching television, then Management must find something else for them to do.

Those individuals can be sent to other departments where there is more work so that they go and learn and to help out. By so doing, Management would have killed two birds with one stone. They would have obtained additional hands for the busier department and also solved the boredom issue at the same time.

Since the repetitive nature of some front line jobs is known to be one of the main causes of boredom, it helps if some creativity and variety is added to the job just to add some spice to it.

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Another way to tackle boredom is to cultivate friendliness and true camaraderie in the workplace. In my experience, no matter how boring one’s job is, if the one finds himself among friends, the boredom would dissipate. By engaging in good banter that does not affect the work, boredom would become a thing of the past.

Supervisors and managers must also know how to manage the work load for those who handle customers because one of the causes of boredom is the lack of activity. As much as is practical, tasks should be staggered throughout the day so that the individual should not be so busy during one period and have absolutely nothing during another period.

Others advise that when one is feeling bored at the front office due to inactivity, one of the best things to do is to begin clearing up one’s desk. I like that advice because it is important for the front desk to look as well kept as possible. A well-kept front office is in an indication of an organisation that takes itself seriously. Therefore, arranging the front desk during a down time while keeping the individual occupied in between serving customers, also helps “beautifies” the front desk. Closely related to cleaning one’s desk is cleaning one’s spam mail. Spare time can be used to handle one’s mail. Mails that needs responding to should be responded to and those that need to be deleted should be deleted accordingly.

Having a free time at the front desk is certainly not an invitation for one to start playing games on the PC. The danger with these computer games is that it can take up one’s attention so much that the one might become oblivious to anything happening around him or her. The last thing you want at the front desk is for a customer to call you just to get your attention all because you are busy “winning” a game on the computer.

It is interesting to note that a 2016 study carried out in the Netherlands among 106 employees in various occupations revealed that boredom in the workplace had a way of carrying on from work. For individuals whose work play a very central role in their lives, being bored at work led to depressed moods at the end of the workday and depressed mood in the evening. In other words, their boredom is not left in the office. It follows the individual home.

When one considers the fact that, for many of us, our works are very central to our lives, the issue of boredom cannot be taken lightly. Many other studies have shown that there are many other negative effects of workplace boredom. These include depression, restlessness, and other physical ailments. All these result in individuals with lower quality of life.

Fortunately, some other Reddit users came to the aid of Mrs.Hazel and started asking her questions just to keep her company. Other users came to the aid of the two other individuals from the beginning of the article. I am sure all three were most thankful to those who took time to bail them out of their predicament.

In the end, it might be a bit far-fetch to say that boredom can actually kill a person but it might kill the one’s enthusiasm for the customer service job and that might lead to the death of so many other things—including the customer’s relationship with the organisation. Every organisation needs its front line staff alive and excited about dealing with every single customer every single time, each and every day—and if they cannot do that, then boredom might have a kill.

#AskJNHalm

Kindly send all enquiries, comments and suggestions to askjnhalm@gmail.com

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