About two and a half years into a job he had previously been really excited about, my client Nick found himself getting increasingly restless and bored. He described his situation to me as a "mountain of sameness," and said he was beginning to dread going to work.
Margaret, someone at the mid-point of her career, was slowly dying on the vine. Of what? Of boredom. She came to me for help identifying what had gone wrong with her career, desperate to find a way out of the stultifying daily sameness of her job.
Boredom at work is a real problem for business today. According to a survey published in January by the Korn Ferry Institute, the leading reason respondents reported looking for a new job was that they were bored with the job they currently hold. And, participants in an OfficeTeam study reported feeling bored for at least 10.5 hours per week.
Boredom at work can have severe consequences.
Employee boredom, labeled bore-out, is a growing workplace trend and is seen as a psychological disorder that can lead to burnout and illness, according to co-authors of the book, Diagnose Boreout, Peter Werder, and Philippe Rothlin. According to Werder and Rothlin, early symptoms of bore-out include demotivation, anxiety, and sadness. In the long term, they state, burnout will develop, generating a strong feeling of self-deprecation, which can turn into depression, and even physical illness.
According to a study published by Udemy, 43 percent of workers report feeling bored at work. The research found that more women than men report workplace boredom (48 percent vs. 39 percent) and Millennials are almost two times as likely to be bored. 51 percent of respondents who described issues with boredom stated they feel this way for more than half of their work week.
What are the symptoms of bore-out?
As Steve Savels describes it, you are left with little energy. "You become irritated, cynical and you feel worthless. Although you don't have enough to do - or what you have to do is not stimulating you enough, you get extremely stressed, " he states. "With a bore-out, you get stuck in your 'comfort zone' for too long, until your personal development comes to a halt. A burn-out happens when you stay for too long in your 'effort zone' until all your energy is gone."
The consequences of bore-out can impact an entire organization.
Employees can begin to stretch tasks out for longer and more extended periods of time to appear busy and engaged. They start to do just what is required and nothing more. They come in late to work, leave early and call in sick more often than their counterparts. Moreover, their attitudes can begin to impact the rest of the team.
"A high incidence of boredom among segments of the workforce directly impacts performance, morale, and retention," according to the Udemy research. "39 percent of surveyed employees called in sick to work due to boredom." 51 percent of employees stated their coworkers regularly describe feelings of apathy or disengagement, which can spread among the workforce leading to low morale throughout the organization. And, as the research revealed, bored workers are more than twice as likely to quit than their non-bored co-workers.
Boredom is known as a leading indicator of disengagement.
"Not only can disengaged employees create a negative work environment but they can also cause a company to lose money," writes Paul Slezak for RecruitLoop. "According to a Gallup poll, actively disengaged employees cause U.S. companies between $450 - $550 billion in lost productivity per year."
What can you do?
Among the things I tell clients who come to me with concerns about boredom at work is that you don't have to leave your current job to fix the problem. You really can turn bore-out around if you're willing to work at it, take the right steps, and reach out to others in your company and network.
Here are some tips to help turn a tedious job into something that has challenge and meaning:
- Ask yourself what exactly bores you about your current situation and what kinds of new responsibilities would seem appealing.
- Meet with your manager and ask for new challenges. Ask for a career counseling and brainstorming session to come up with ideas for moving forward.
- Increase your networking, inside and outside of your company. Take the time to get to know new people and ask them about their jobs and what they find interesting or exciting.
- Get involved in volunteer projects within your company. Ask to be included in a corporate social responsibility (CSR) project and work to get to know the other people involved.
- Check into job shadowing. You may be able to shadow someone from an entirely different part of the company and learn something utterly unrelated to your current job.
- See if you can take part in one of your organization's fellowship programs. Some companies offer short-term fellowship programs that last three to six months and may take place in other parts of the country or even offices abroad.
- Work on increasing your visibility within the company and in building your personal brand.
- Work with a coach to uncover new ways to build meaning into your work, no matter where you are employed.