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almost 2 years ago by Melissa Kilday

Is boredom amongst your staff leading to absenteeism?

laptop, phone, smartphone, woman, girl, worker, workspace

It’s been well documented that stress at work is a major contributing factor to both long term and short term absence. CIPD & Simplyhealth’s 2016 Absence Management Survey reports that stress is the number one cause for long-term absence and the second-biggest cause for short-term absence, after minor illnesses – these being cited as colds, flu, stomach upsets, headaches and migraines.

It’s all too common to associate stress in the workplace with too big a workload. We’ve all experienced this at some point in our careers: working every waking-hour to meet tight deadlines; taking on too many complex projects at once; angst caused by demanding line managers; requests to undertake work that’s out of our comfort zone.

But what about stress caused by boredom in the workplace?

Over my professional career, I have witnessed emotional stress (frustration, agitation, low self-esteem and even depression) from candidates, clients, friends and even colleagues who are simply bored in their job. By bored they weren’t feeling challenged/mentally stimulated or they simply did not have enough work to do to keep them engaged. In some of those cases I’ve seen the physical symptoms of stress develop which has led to time off work absent. Moreover, feeling underwhelmed at work negatively impacts motivation and encourages absence due to non-genuine ill health (i.e. calling in sick). In one particular case regarding a candidate I knew in London, he was so bored in his job that often he “[couldn’t] be bothered with going to work today”. Boredom also leads to counter productivity and idleness. Graham Cole’s 2016 article on "Being psychologically absent at work: Types and effects of job boredom” suggests that boredom at work has a massive detrimental effect on an organisation’s productivity. It goes on to say that disengaged employees will not fully utilise their skills and abilities, which ultimately costs the employer money in periods of downtime when productivity is not at optimum levels. 

Having spoken to many HR professionals in the East Midlands it’s clear that whilst some organisations have a major problem with absenteeism, overall absence is “manageable” and “meets expected levels”. This mirrors CIPD & Simplyhealth’s 2016 Absence Management Survey that states, “The average level of employee absence (6.3 days per employee) has decreased in all sectors and is at its lowest level for seven years”. Nevertheless, the cost of absence per employee (£522 according to the survey), is still a significant financial burden to the employer.

In managing absence, boredom (and stress and idleness related to it) needs to be addressed. In addition to stringent absence management policies and procedures the need to engage employees to ensure they are fulfilling their potential and productivity levels is paramount. Clearly, a balance where stress levels from too much work and too little needs to be reached. So, is boredom amongst your staff leading to absenteeism? Email me to let me know your thoughts and experiences.

Andy Lilliman – Senior HR Consultant – Cherry Professional