Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 14, Issue 31;   July 30, 2014: Unnecessary Boring Work: II

Unnecessary Boring Work: II


Workplace boredom can result from poor choices by the person who's bored. More often boredom comes from the design of the job itself. Here's Part II of our little catalog of causes of workplace boredom.
A stretch of the Amazon rain forest showing storm damage

A stretch of the Amazon rain forest showing storm damage. In a study of the forest conducted by NASA and Tulane University, it was found that violent storms from January 16 to 18, 2005, killed approximately half a billion trees. The study is significant not only for its findings, but also because it was the first instance in which researchers calculated how many trees a single thunderstorm can kill, according to Jeffrey Chambers, who is a forest ecologist at Tulane and one of the authors of the paper. In the photo, you can see trunks of trees made visible by the loss of their neighbors. Prior to the study, it was believed that the losses were due to drought. But by combining ground observations, modeling, and LandSat imagery, the researchers were able to calculate tree losses.

An accurate assessment of what happened in the Amazon in 2005 was possible only by combining information about the forest obtained at different scales — both ground and satellite observations were required. In organizational process design, too often we use data from only one scale — either local or global. The result is a process architecture that makes sense at one scale — that at which it was designed — but not at the other scale. Sensible process design requires careful analysis at both local and global scales.

Photo by Jeffrey Chambers, courtesy NASA.

Workplace boredom is to some extent the responsibility of the bored, who sometimes make choices that lead to boredom. For example, by exploiting capabilities already provided in the software we use most, we can eliminate much of the boring work we do. To do so, we must learn to make better use of the tools we have. Some of us are averse to learning, and many feel too pressed for time to learn.

Most employers can help more than they do. The net cost of training is zero or negative for many employers, because productivity increases offset the costs. But employers who use contractors, or who accept high turnover rates resulting from abominable working conditions, get little benefit from training, and therefore find the investment unjustifiable. It's a vicious cycle.

But the most fertile source of workplace boredom is the design of the work itself. Here are three examples.

Wasteful workflows
I've actually encountered cases in which people print documents "for the record," file one copy, and attach another to a package to be passed to the next stage of processing in another department, where it's scanned "for the record." We like to believe that such cases are rare, but they do exist. Even when all stages are electronic, the steps might not make sense from a whole-organization perspective. When organizational processes have wasteful steps, the real problem isn't the process or the boring work it creates. Rather, it's a failure of organizational leaders to see the organization as a whole.
Cost management
In some organizations, people of proven capability are paid very well on an annual basis. But on an hourly basis, not so much. Often they work 60- or 70-hour weeks. Possibly this happens because cost management measures make hiring enough knowledgeable people difficult. The result is that people who do have knowledge don't have time to transfer what they know to the less knowledgeable. And the less knowledgeable don't have time to learn, because they're loaded down with the more routine, boring work, which might be automated if time permitted. Thus, cost management prevents the knowledge transfer needed to reduce the amount of boring work and increase productivity.
The illusion of cost control
Cost control The most fertile source of
workplace boredom is the
design of the work itself
measures, such as layers of approvals and positional expenditure limits, are often too stringent. Whether they're actually effective is an open question, for two reasons. First, they create (boring) and costly work both for the people who must seek approvals and for the people whose approvals they seek. Second, they reduce the velocity of work, because the approvers are often busy people who cannot respond to requests in a timely fashion. Reduced velocity leads to delays, which become lost sales, delayed revenue, increased customer frustration, and reduced market share.

Well, enough of this. I don't want to bore anybody. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Impasses in Group Decision-Making: III  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenOlrZwVhrCuxiWrObner@ChacxRoDbDNJbUcCZfrkoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

Submitting a status reportStatus-Report as a Second Language
Sometimes, the clichés the losing team's players feed to sports reporters can have hidden meaning. So it is with Project Status Reports, especially for projects in trouble.
A rocking chairPoverty of Choice by Choice
Sometimes our own desire not to have choices prevents us from finding creative solutions. Life can be simpler (if less rich) when we have no choices to make. Why do we accept the same tired solutions, and how can we tell when we're doing it?
Tenacious under full sailThe Solving Lamp Is Lit
We waste a lot of time finding solutions before we understand the problem. And sometimes, we start solving before everyone is even aware of the problem. Here's how to prevent premature solution.
Soldiers of IX Engineering Command, U.S. Army Air Force, putting down a Pierced Steel Planking (PSP) Runway at an Advanced Landing Ground under construction somewhere in France following the Normandy Landings of World War IIManagement Debt: I
Management debt, like technical debt, arises when we choose paths — usually the lowest-cost paths — that lead to recurring costs that are typically higher than alternatives. Why do we take on management debt? How can we pay it down?
A schematic representation of a MOSFETBottlenecks: II
When some people take on so much work that they become "bottlenecks," they expose the organization to risks. Managing those risks is a first step to ending the bottlenecking pattern.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Project Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A Mustang GT illegally occupying two parking spaces at Vaughan Mills Mall, OntarioComing March 21: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: III
People who behave narcissistically tend to regard themselves as special. They systematically place their own interests and welfare ahead of anyone or anything else. In this part of the series we consider how this claimed specialness affects the organization and its people. Available here and by RSS on March 21.
Santa Claus arrives at 57th and Broadway in New York in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day ParadeAnd on March 28: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: IV
Narcissistic behavior at work is more damaging than rudeness or egotism. It leads to faulty decisions that compromise organizational missions. In this part of the series we examine the effects of constant demands for attention and admiration. Available here and by RSS on March 28.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenRrUtaQXflZWrBpFoner@ChacoFbBxLGZymRtEiICoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.