We Know a Dirty Little Secret About Your Job

Here is a dirty little secret about mind-numbing, boring tasks we do at work: We won't admit it, but we love them!

Completing unchallenging, rote tasks gives us such a sense of accomplishment that this kind of work actually makes us happy, according to researchers from the University of California, Irvine and Microsoft Research.

"With rote work, you get a feeling of accomplishment, but you haven't exerted a lot of mental activity," study leader Gloria Mark told The Wall Street Journal. "It gives you a feeling of fulfillment, but there's not frustration or stress."

The study: The team laboriously studied 32 Microsoft employees with a wide range of job titles as they went through the various tasks of their workday, collecting more than 1,500 hours of observational data and 91,000 data points about mood and attention. In addition, the employees were regularly prompted by questionnaires that popped up on their work screens throughout the day to report on how engaged and challenged they were by the task they were doing right then.

The results:

  • Our levels of focus and boredom shift throughout the day. Focus rises in the late morning around 11 a.m. and peaks in the mid-afternoon at about 2 to 3 p.m. Focus sharply drops after 3 p.m.

  • We are most bored in the early afternoon, soon after lunch. Of all the days of the week, we are most bored on Mondays.

  • While we say we enjoy a challenge at work, the reality is that we are less happy when we work on difficult tasks that require a lot of attention and engagement.

"Focus involves a kind of stress, and people aren't generally happy when they are stressed," Mark told The Wall Street Journal. By contrast, "rote work is effortless, so you can get gratification for getting things done."

Bosses, take note: A great way to boost employees' moods is to let them have a Facebook break. The researchers found that when employees looked at Facebook for a few minutes during the workday, it made them happier.

The research findings were published in the Proceedings of the Computer-Human Interaction Conference 2014.

--From the Editors at Netscape

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