The Complaint Department

In our professional lives, we complain about a lot of things.

Like how much we get paid, how much we have to work, and how we never get any recognition or support. We complain about our bosses and our staff, about the people we work with, and the clients and customers we work for. We even find time to complain about those who complain too much.

So what’s all the griping about? Are people’s professional lives so miserable that they just can’t contain their negative feelings? It may surprise you to know that most people aren’t unhappy with their jobs, they are bored with them. And when they’re bored, they complain.

We often think of the human brain as a fixed collection of cells and neurons stuffed inside of our head. An organ that gets its shape and functionality when we are young and pretty much remains unchanged until the day we die.  But the truth is, our brains are very “plastic,” constantly reorganizing our neural pathways every time we experience some new stimuli. The trouble is, once our brain has seen or done something new a few times, it no longer finds it interesting and craves additional stimulation.

In other words, it gets bored.

You would think that the world we live in today - one where most organizations are expecting their employees to do more with less -that there wouldn’t be any time to feel boredom. But it is that striving for efficiency that is often having the opposite effect. Organizations are building new systems, new processes and new technologies to simplify our jobs and make our work more consistent and predictable. They are standardizing our tasks and boring our brains.

Now, please don’t misunderstand. I am not advocating for inefficient organizations. What I am suggesting however, is that you consider what our human brains require as you streamline your operation. I am warning you of the consequences likely to occur when you ignore our biology. Not only a less creative, less strategic, and less proactive workforce, but one that is bored, and perhaps worse, one that complains.
Here are a few tips that will keep your people more engaged:

  1. Introduce more frequent and regular changes into their work life. We all fear change, but our brains demand it. The key is creating a safe and supportive environment where people can try new things without the fear of failure.
  2. Offer them something meaningful to do. We all want our lives to be about more than the transaction of money. People find their jobs more fulfilling (and less boring) when they understand its real value and/or when they can make a real difference in the world or in the lives of others.
  3. Allow them to learn something new. As managers and employers, our lives are easier when we can give someone a job to do and never worry about them again. But expanding their horizons will not only open up new and exciting opportunities for them, it will inevitably open up new and exciting opportunities for you.
  4. Encourage them to mentor others. One of the best ways for a person to re-engage their brain is to share what they know with others. It fuels their ego, their self-esteem and their sense of value.
  5. Provide them with creative activities. Boredom comes from the repatition of predictable tasks with predictable outcomes. Stimulate others brains by challenging them to solve problems in new and creative ways.


James Kane