Repetitive and Monotonous Work - 8 November 2012
Let’s say you were offered a 3-minute massage with two options on how to receive it. The first option enables you to have it all in one go. The second gives you the same 3-minute massage but with a break in the middle. Which option would you prefer?
In a study published in the Journal of Marketing Research, the majority of respondents chose the former – they would rather receive the entire massage in one 3-minute block. However, those who experienced the massage with a break in the middle reported far higher levels of satisfaction than the others.
This is due to something known as satiation, which means that our enjoyment of a product or service diminishes the more that we use it. For example, for most of us, a few scoops of ice cream are more satisfying than a whole tub. It’s also why we listen to our favourite song repeatedly until we can no longer bear to hear it. Basically, shorter periods of exposure are more fulfilling than longer ones.
Satiation is a principle that also applies in the workplace. When employees are exposed to the same task repetitively for long periods of time, their engagement drops. If that repetitive task happens to be one they never enjoyed in the first place, their engagement plummets.
Your challenge as a leader is to be conscious of each employee’s point of satiation. Some will have a lower threshold than others but, either way, there are preventative measures you can take to bring them back from the brink, as well as recovery measures to reignite their enthusiasm once they’re over the edge. Some examples are listed below.
- Institute frequent short breaks rather than fewer longer ones
- Add variety by providing additional responsibilities or by teaching new skills
- Compartmentalise job tasks into separate categories with each one performed separately, so that employees feel as though there is more diversity
- Identify each employee’s talents and incorporate those into the work they do
- Invite staff to reengineer their job so that it becomes more engaging
- Explore the most repetitive and monotonous parts of the job that could be automated or outsourced, freeing employees to work on more fulfilling tasks
And consider that some people are too smart or too talented to be working in menial jobs. To keep them from resigning, assign work more suited to their capabilities and review the way you make recruitment decisions. Sometimes, you’ll have to massage the structure of a job – or massage the steps in a process – to create a stimulating place to work.
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