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Do doo be-do-do Monotony

This post will not be for everyone. For sure. There are people who thrive on predictability and are not big fans of experiences that might spark one to say, "Well, I didn't see that coming."


For others, the phrase, "variety is the spice of life" is so central to their cognitive diet that to go without would be like going without nutrients of any kind.


People can experience burnout when there is never anything new, nothing varied, same ol', same ol', day in and ay out. Also, if people have a set of expectations for how the day will go and every day has zero consistency and zero predictability, all of the brainpower required to think about new stuff constantly and never know what's coming next could also lead to burnout.


"So what you're saying here, Dr. Sam, is that there's no way to win?"


Let's not collectively throw our hands up and walk into the ocean. There is a way to examine a person's path and how much it meanders toward burnout by looking at their task variance.


Note that the phrase is 'task variance' rather than 'task fruitbasket upset' or 'task variance in imperceptible ways' or 'I'm a vascular surgeon, why am I grading high school geometry today?'


As a student affairs professional in higher education, task variance is what I loved most about the work in terms of how it was fulfilling to me. I would often describe work as every day being different. That variance never changed how it was fulfilling or that it existed. One day I'm one of several people in the president's conference room trying to figure out how to get water to thousands of people when a water main broke on campus in August, on the first day of classes. Another day might include planning for the campus-wide first-year seminar and also coding the relational database interface to create a user-friendly dynamic report. Really.


In this industry, I was able to experience so many types of work and engagements that I never stopped learning. For me, that was great. Throughout all of this, I very rarely was assigned a task that was well outside of the general job expectation which, yes, included, "other duties as assigned." Even then, making the argument for the work to be done didn't rely on that phrase, it just fit the needs and I was generally happy to learn how to do something new.


Leaders who read this are probably not the type to say, "I pay you to do this job, so do this job." However, readers may resonate with having heard that phrase. I recall some of the work I did in a plywood mill. Some folks did the same thing every day. There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, there's some comfort and the opportunity to get really good at the task. If that's how a person is wired to thrive, then please, Go Forth and Be Awesome! But if a person doing that task needs a little change, that can be honored as well.


Here are some low-impact ways to offer task variance even in repetitive work. In a production space, it's not difficult to imagine giving employees a chance to work up or down the line occasionally to try something new. There may be a chance to ask employees how to better do their current job which brings in creativity and variance. In an office environment, professional development can be very empowering. Additionally, allowing time and space for other in-house exploration can help a lot as well. For example, maybe employees can access assignments that help them break up their experience and also serve the organization. Just because they're not doing the same thing all the time doesn't mean they're not continuing to contribute.


Ensuring we have some variety is good to prevent burnout. Variety is also good for brain function and general longevity. Having new things to do, see, experience, even if modestly new, can help our brains get fired up and be more healthy. For example, if you have lunch at the same time in the same place (for the love of Pete not at your desk), change it up. Even a change of environment can be enough variety to give your brain more to do.


Subtle changes in the work tasks can provide that variety as well. It might be something as simple as changing a routine; that is how your schedule your day compared to writing a macro or setting up an if-this-then-that in an app. Other task variance can be achieved by stopping what it is you're doing and quickly looking up to see if there are better ways to do that task. There might be a tiny tweak that can refresh what you're doing.


Leaders - please give your reports room for this exploration. You can make suggestions and recommendations, but in most cases, when people select their own version of variety, they will tend to be happier with the experience. If you find yourself thinking, "I don't pay my people to change, I pay them to do their job," then consider what you're paid to do. Are you paid to ensure high productivity, or high turnover.


Leaders who don't do what they can to prevent burnout will end up with team members who are disengaged, less productive, and ultimately, giving notice.



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