Motivating Your Burned-Out Employees

I’m reading an article by David Javitch at MSNBC who suggests that dealing with bored employees is a management problem and should be handled through accurate job descriptions and job enlargement.  Although I believe he presents some valid points, he doesn’t look at the subject from a personal productivity standpoint.  This should be a two-pronged attack, as there is a LOT an individual can do to take the initiative and work productively despite boredom.

For example, I don’t like entering credit card receipts into QuickBooks. It would be really easy for it to stack up for a month. When it comes time to pay bills and balance the books, I can suddenly discover five or six other urgent things requiring my attention. Unfortunately, not all of our jobs thrill us. Even tedious, boring tasks must be completed. Here are some suggestions to help you concentrate on a task that bores you:

Do a leading task. Perhaps the task is making you anxious, such as returning a complaint call from a customer. Select a simple, low effort part of the task to get you started. For example, you could pull the customer’s file. Perform another leading task, such as reviewing the file. Pull the phone closer. In other words, complete everything up to the part of the activity you dread. Then the ONLY thing left to do is pick up the phone. In order to discharge negative emotions, it might help to write down your thoughts and figure out what you’re going to say before you call.

Eat a frog first. By completing unpleasant tasks early in the day, you won’t feel the impending sense of doom hanging over your head all day. I like Mark Twain’s quote, “If you eat a frog first thing in the morning, the rest of your day will be wonderful.” Identify the “frog” on your list each day and eat it first. You’ll feel great all day.

Vary your activities. For mental and physical alertness, be sure to vary sitting activities with standing ones, mental activities with physical ones, and writing tasks with social tasks (such as meetings, phone calls, etc.). It will help prevent fatigue and keep your efficiency high.

Create rewards. Make a deal with yourself that when you complete the boring activity, you will do something fun afterward. By creating internal enthusiasm, I’m able to sit in front of the computer and enter receipts non-stop for an hour. I know that after I’m done, I get to eat chocolate and take a walk!

Turn it into a game. Pretend like this is the first time you’ve done this task. Give yourself a “pep talk” and be more enthusiastic. Whistle while you work. Turn on some light background music.

Give yourself new responsibilities. Tasks that bore you can be changed! Can you find a way to do that task better? Can you make it more interesting? Can you do more research on the project? Can you add another piece to it, to make completing it more exciting? Instead of just paying bills, create a budget, and compare items. Learn more about where your money is going.

Check for Job Fit. Stress levels that are too low can contribute to job burnout. Perhaps you’ve been doing the same thing for too long. Is it time for a new challenge? Can you ask for new responsibilities? Can you join a committee or start a new task force? Because you know your job so well, you are the perfect person to redesign an inefficient process.

If you try these things and your work never gets more enjoyable or meaningful than before, then you have to look elsewhere. If you are consistently bored, you probably aren’t in the right job.



  1. Jerome Alexander says:

    Kudos! This was sensible advice. It was aimed the employee and puts the employee in charge of setting their priorities and determining their own value and fit. Far different than some evangelical sermon from the corporate elite on how they should feel “passion” about their jobs (and PS work harder!). Good managers help their employees, jerk managers rely on the latter tactic.
    No Buzzwords, no “programs du jour”, and no more manipulation. For more on this read my book, “160 Degrees of Deviation: The Case for the Corporate Cynic”

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