LEARNING FROM TECHNOLOGY
GET ON BORED Can dating apps teach firms to connect with disengaged workers?
V ogue dating columnist Annie Lord recently bemoaned the general discontent with the apps that have come to dominate the modern world of courting. She cites data from the Pew Research Center showing that nearly half of dating app users end up feeling more of a sense of frustration than optimism about the prospects of finding ‘the one’. Underpinning this discontent is a strong sense that people don't behave particularly well when they are participating in dating apps. Behaviours such as ghosting (when dates vanish without an explanation), benching (when people are put on hold until somebody better comes along), and breadcrumbing (giving just enough attention to maintain interest but never committing) are now common. In our research of popular dating apps – namely Tinder and Bumble – we found ghosting is something that often occurs because people are simply... bored. In fact, many are bored to begin with, so install the apps to try to alleviate that boredom. They're then made more bored by the many unfulfilling encounters they have via the apps, which prompts them to ghost people, despite considering the act rude and inappropriate when it happens to them. The apps don’t help, with few providing any means to make conversations more interesting. This is compounded by the sense among the dating app companies themselves that the users’ experience is in fact altogether positive. When they assess the usage of the apps by simplistic and aggregate measures, such as number of users, time spent on the site, and the number of messages users
exchange, then these apps could be seen as a roaring success. Indeed, the lack of seemingly viable alternatives prompts many of those that delete the apps in frustration to reinstall them. This cycle of dismay gives the impression that boredom and dissatisfaction are actually key factors that drive engagement. It is a discovery where the implications run far beyond the confines of the online dating industry, with the rest of the economy in the midst of the so-called ‘quiet quitting’ phenomenon that is driven by similar levels of boredom and lack of fulfilment at work. For instance, an anonymous survey conducted at Blind, an online community for tech professionals, revealed around two-thirds of respondents were bored at work. Meanwhile, Gallup data states just 32 per cent of employees are engaged at work, with nearly one in five saying they're actively disengaged, largely because their workplace needs aren't being met. Our research into boredom in online dating has two implications for business. The first is that it's important to measure the right things when gauging the level of workforce engagement. As with dating apps, it can be tempting to focus on things that are relatively easy to measure and assume this accurately captures engagement. For instance, employee attendance ticks that box, and managers might assume that an employee sitting at their desk must be engaged, but of course, the quiet quitting phenomenon tells us otherwise. To effectively measure employee engagement, managers must understand what's important to their staff. This is unlikely to be
one-size-fits-all, as some may want teamwork while others want career development or effective communication. Managers can then perform what's known as a ‘driver analysis’ to identify the things that really impact on engagement through employee surveys, using Likert scales for each factor. Producing a percentage share for each factor will give managers a good indication of what drives engagement among their staff and address any shortcomings. The second key takeaway is that it is easy to fall into the trap of assuming boredom is always a bad thing. After all, we're driven by the desire for our workforce to be as engaged as possible, so boredom must mean those efforts are failing. Research shows, however, that a degree of boredom can make us more creative. “Small amounts of boredom The researchers found that participants who were given a boring task to perform before trying to create some interesting artwork ended up producing more creative projects than those who were not induced by boredom beforehand. This was especially true of participants with personality traits such as cognitive drive, openness to new experiences, intellectual curiosity, and a desire to learn new things. Inducing boredom in such people triggers something known as ‘divergence-seeking behaviours’, might actually be beneficial”
when the curious among us try to break out of the intellectual straitjacket we've been placed in. It remains to be seen whether (and how) organisations should deliberately try and engineer boredom in the workplace, but it is a reminder that small amounts of boredom might actually be beneficial. At the moment, this boredom is not being channelled in the right way. Some of our interviewees revealed they mostly used dating apps while they're bored at work. Managers could try to provide more productive outlets for the divergence-seeking behaviours that are produced by boredom, perhaps via enterprise social media and channels that encourage employees to come forward with ideas. Many of the dating app users we studied stuck it out because they didn't believe other apps were any better. However, their continued use resulted in increasingly cynical and lacklustre engagement, which further exacerbates the boredom spreading through the dating app network. For managers, it is important that they avoid falling into the same trap and ensure that false engagement isn’t sought just for the sake of gaming the metrics without having substantial progress being made in terms of things that truly matter to employees and the organisation. Failure to do so seems likely to hurt organisations and result in similar disenchantment among employees as we see among the dating users we interviewed.
by Anh Luong
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