The Psychology Behind Why We Choose Boring Jobs


Imagine you are offered a position to work as a museum attendant. Your only job is to stand around making sure that no one touches a painting. The job doesn’t sound too bad, right?

In reality, for many, standing around is a “boring” job that doesn’t offer much variety, interaction with people, or enjoyment. So why do people take these boring jobs?

The results of new research out of Duke University, shared in the NPR story “Why Do People Agree to Work in Boring Jobs?”,  suggests people trick themselves into taking these boring jobs by thinking they will be more enjoyable than they actually know they will be.  They also may suffer from effort aversion. When given multiple choices, people are more likely to choose the one that will require less effort.

Though a low-effort job may sound appealing, the luxury of exerting low-effort comes at a cost. Not only is the job boring, it probably doesn’t pay as well as a job that requires skill. In one experiment, researchers took a group of business students and asked them to unplug from their devices for 5 minutes in order to get paid $2.50. They were given the option to solve word problems while they waited out their 5 minutes. At the end of the time, the students who chose to solve word problems with their 5 minutes rated themselves as happier than those who did not solve word problems, though expected more money for putting in more effort.

What does this study mean for students and career seekers? If you’re searching for happiness, taking the easy road may not always be the best decision. Happiness comes to many people when they exert effort, have their ideas heard, finish projects, and have variety in their day, not from being asked to stand around.

How might these psychological studies change the way you think about making your next decision between something easy and something potentially more difficult but potentially more gratifying?

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