Get out of the disengagement rut
A Udemy survey found that more than 40 percent of American office workers are bored at work. According to that same survey, entry-level and mid-level workers are more likely to be bored at work than are their more senior colleagues, women are more likely to be bored at work than men are, and millennials are more likely to be bored at work than their baby boomers peers are.
Boredom at work can be a product of the natural cycles of business (i.e., busy seasons vs. slow seasons) or the nature of the work being monotonous, or it could be more about you as a professional: You might be overqualified for your job or your skills underutilized.
Boredom leads to disengagement, and being disengaged is deflating. It can affect your mental health and your long-term career development.
Identify the reason you’re bored
Lynn Luong, founder and CEO of career advancement company The 2.0 Collective, says the first step to getting out of the boredom rut is to identify the reason you’re feeling disengaged. Is it the job itself that’s unfulfilling, or are you not doing enough in your role?
Reasons you might be bored at work
- The work is monotonous, repetitive, or uninteresting.
- You’re overqualified for your job or you’re not being challenged by the work.
- You’re not being given enough work to do.
- Your skills aren’t being properly used.
- The job isn’t what you thought it would be.
- You’re not being recognized or rewarded for your work.
- There’s no room to grow in your job or in the company.
- You’re burnt out or you’re working long hours.
You may find that the reason for your workplace boredom is multifaceted-perhaps you’re burnt out because you work long hours on monotonous tasks.
Once you understand the reason, or reasons, you’re feeling bored, you can start addressing the problem.
Talk to your boss
If you’re unchallenged, overqualified, or underutilized
If you find the reason for your boredom is related to feeling unchallenged, or overqualified, underutilized, or you’re not being given enough to fill the time, tactfully talk to your boss about the problem.
It’s not helpful if you simply come with the complaint that you’re bored-you have to be proactive by identifying the specific problem and proposing a solution (preferably one that benefits your manager or the business too).
I want to make sure I’m growing my skill set and experience, and lately I’ve been feeling a little unchallenged by my work. Are there any projects on the horizon I could be a part of? I really enjoy strategy and planning work. Is there something I could take off your plate-perhaps forecasting for the next fiscal year-that would make your life easier right now?
“Identify opportunities yourself instead of waiting for the job to provide them,” professional coach Irina Fateycheva says. “Is there a chance to mentor someone, learn another skill, make certain processes more efficient, or earn what a person in the role you aspire to have does?”
But you don’t necessarily have to tell your boss you’re unchallenged or stifled (some supervisors won’t be amenable to that language). You could simply propose a specific project you’d like to take on.
I noticed that our customer satisfaction scores have been sinking the last two months. Would you be okay with my listening to our customer calls and taking a fresh look at our training manuals? I have bandwidth right now and would really like to find ways to get those scores back up.
If the problem is lack of recognition
If you find the problem is lack of recognition, tell your boss you need more feedback on your work. Ask if you can schedule a recurring 1:1 meeting or other regular opportunity to hear constructive feedback. Be prepared, though, that if you’re asking for feedback, you should be prepared to hear the good and the bad.
My annual review is always helpful, but I find I tend to do better if I have more regular feedback. I’d like to set up a call with you once a month to talk about project progress and get your thoughts on my work-both good and bad. Do Thursdays work for you?
If you simply need those regular nuggets of praise or recognition, consider talking to your boss about how this is part of your working style.
I like to think I’m the kind of person who can simply let their work speak for itself, but I really do need those bits of positive reinforcement. Like when you thanked me for handling that inventory error last week. I really respect your opinion, so any time you feel like you could speak to my good work, please do so. It really made a big difference for me.
If you have nowhere to grow
If the problem is that there’s no growth opportunities, express to your manager that you’d really like to make sure you’re growing in your career, and provide specific ways you believe you can do so.
My numbers show that I’ve really mastered the QA process, and I want to make sure I’m always growing my skills. I would like to participate in the management training program. While I may have to scale back my hours on the shop floor temporarily, I would bring back a lot of new skills to my job here and I hope it might help me further improve the QA process. Read more: How to Grow When You Have Nowhere to Go
If you’re feeling burnt out
If the problem is that you’re feeling burnt out, approach your boss about workload and tell them you’re feeling overwhelmed. Frame the request in terms of quality of work, and suggest a solution or two.
I always want to do the very best job I can, but I’ve noticed that the quality of my work is slipping lately. I think the reason is that I’m overwhelmed. Would it be possible to hand the analysis work to Keishia? She’s so incredibly forward-thinking, and I think that’s something she would enjoy. Alternatively, I could look at how much it might cost to bring on a freelancer or part-time hire to work on some of the more administrative parts of my job. What do you think?
Use the time to work on your career
Both Luong and Fateycheva recommend mentorship, whether you’re the mentor or mentee, as a remedy to workplace boredom.
“Try finding a mentor in your company-someone who has a role you’d like to work up to,” Luong says. “Connect with them and be candid, and ask what you can do to get where they are.” You might ask this person if you can take them to coffee for an informal interview or to pick their brain about their job and professional background.
If there’s no mentorship opportunity in your current workplace, you may have luck with an outside organization, either one in your industry or local area. Try googling “professional mentorship programs in [your location],” or “professional [industry] mentorship programs.”
You can also look to your local chamber of commerce, university, or networking group for programs or recommendations for programs.
Read more: How to Find a Mentor & How to Ask
Fateycheva also recommends using the downtime to network: “Use this extra time and head space to network, hear new perspectives on your role/skills/experience, and brainstorm how you can advance it forward. Ideally, you want to be in the space of creating opportunity and that starts with personal commitment, vision, and responsibility.”
Get to know your peers and your manager’s peers in the organization. Eat lunch with them, connect on LinkedIn, attend team events, or get involved in company committees or resource groups. It’s estimated that as much as 80 percent of jobs are filled through networking, so this is a great way to spend the extra time, especially if you feel like your boredom is a sign you should be looking for something new.
Read more: How to Network Without Feeling Gross
When it’s time to go
Consider that sometimes being bored in your work is a sign that it’s time to move on. Perhaps you’ve graduated out of the current level of work you’re doing, but there’s no opportunity for a promotion or other advancement at your job. Perhaps you’ve proposed new tasks, but your boss just isn’t biting. It may be time to look for a new job.
“If your current job isn’t giving you enough, you can also try to find opportunities outside of your job,” Luong says. “You need to think about what career fullness means to you, and what it includes. Is it just having a 9-to-5? If not, what fires you up? Are you interested in volunteering or community service?”
If you’re not in a position to leave your current job, consider looking for volunteer or part-time opportunities in areas that interest you. This can help stave off boredom in the interim and may even show you a new path for your career.
About our sources
Lynn Luong, founder and CEO of The 2.0 Collective, works to modernize career coaching and help professionals reach the next best version of themselves. Luong is an ecosystem builder in New York and Charlotte who leans into creative solutions to further local innovation.
Irina Fateycheva is a certified professional coach. Prior to becoming a coach, Fateycheva received her undergraduate degree from Manhattan College and for over a decade was a forensic accountant who focused on international corruption investigations. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, outdoor sports, and live music. She currently lives in New York City.