When people say they are bored at work they usually complain of not having enough to do, performing repetitive tasks or having a dearth of challenges through their day.
However, the complaints may hide unacknowledged emotions that masquerade as boredom. For example, boredom has many functions. It can hide anxiety, or indicate a lack of initiative or willingness to take responsibility for oneself, it may reveal a tendency to look for constant thrills, or conversely, a fear of taking risks. It could even exist due to unresolved anger.
Whatever the underlying causes of boredom, it inevitably requires action on the part of the bored worker. Expecting a job to provide unending excitement is setting oneself up for disappointment. If you experience boredom at work consider looking at yourself first before the job, your co-workers or the boss.
Ask yourself a few questions:
1. What do I really want from my job or career?
Take a look at the skills you use every day that you value. You may find that once a week you get to show a rookie employee a new trick on the computer. This may indicate how much you enjoy teaching others. Identify the kind of people you enjoy working with—some people like boisterous, gregarious environments, while others crave peace and quiet. Pick people at work with whom you have a connection. What are they like? This can give you a glimpse into the type of people you might like to work with. Some may choose analytical types who enjoy a good debate, while others enjoy warm people who tell it like it is.
Next, think about the kind of responsibility you would like to have. Do you like the idea of being accountable for a project or are you more comfortable being part of the team? Some people naturally shun the limelight. In situations like these, backroom types may complain of “boredom” when they are feeling anxious about having to prepare yet another presentation.
2. What do I really want for my life apart from my job?
Some people find themselves feeling bored at work because that’s all they do. They are boring themselves to death by being one- dimensional. Nothing can be more boring than doing the same thing all day, every day. Making sure you have a life outside of work is important. Find enjoyable activities that are different from your work pursuits. If you are an accountant, don’t always volunteer your services – it’s too much like your work. Try something new. You may find work more interesting if it isn’t consuming all your attention.
3. Am I experiencing boredom for underlying emotional reasons?
Sometimes boredom hides fears. People who find their jobs boring may be afraid to push for more interesting work, or they may take a passive approach to their jobs by finishing a task and waiting to be told what to do next. Try initiating new programs, suggest special projects, come up with a new idea and take it on. Make your job more interesting if you can.
Sometimes staff mistake boredom for unresolved tensions. A long standing conflict creates feelings of anger. If the anger is not dealt with and the conflict remains unresolved, staff tend to disengage. As a result, people feel disconnected from colleagues and the workplace. If you feel bored at work due to anxiety about trying something new, a reluctance to take the initiative or due to unresolved conflict, think about reducing boredom by taking some risks, resolving tensions and taking on new projects.
4. What is boring about Jobs
Jobs aren’t necessarily inherently boring. One person might find something simple and mundane a joy, while another would be bored to tears doing the same activity. Why is that? Personality and temperament play a role, as do ability and interests. But the way the job is structured can inadvertently build in boredom. For example, jobs where you may feel taken for granted can become boring quickly. When people don’t receive proper recognition, they feel like what they are doing doesn’t matter. As a result, boredom may set in. A lack of team spirit at work or a lethargic, cynical or uninspired manager or supervisor can cause feelings of boredom. Sometimes people outgrow their jobs. What was once an exciting challenge ends up being repetitive and dull when all the requirements and skills have been mastered. At this point, bored staff are ready for a new challenge.
Another way to make jobs more interesting is to define career tracks that, when followed, lead to a different position. If the company has no room to move due to a full complement of staff, the organization can offer training and education that deepen staff knowledge about their position. Companies that don’t offer training and development or fund educational opportunities risk boring their staff.
If the company refrains from providing regular feedback or meaningful performance evaluations, staff risk becoming bored. It is important that employees have regular and timely feedback about how they are doing. People need to know what they are doing well and how they could do better. By offering staff feedback they have a better chance of learning something new and increasing their job satisfaction.
We need three basic ingredients to stave off boredom and be satisfied at work: We require a measure of control and autonomy in how we get things done. We need appreciation and recognition. It’s hard to be bored when we see what we are doing is important and we need novelty-the chance to try new things. If people feel they matter, that they are cared for, have some say and keep learning, they are more likely to be satisfied and less likely to be bored.
5. If your job’s boring, what next?
What if you’ve tried to initiate new projects, get more training, follow a company career track, refrain from being passive, resolved tensions at work and you are still bored? And, you’ve tried to talk with your manager about what the company can do to add some spice to your role or you’ve tried to transfer to a new section within the company and you are still bored? It may be time to find a new job. If this is the case, be sure to look for work while you are still employed. Guard against using company time to look for a new position and watch out for the tendency to take sick days or be absent from work. These behaviours could jeopardize your ability to receive a good reference from your current employer. You may be ready to move on, but it is best not to burn any bridges.
It’s important to look within when we find ourselves bored. Spending the better part of a day with a dull, dreary and dead-end attitude will take its toll. Deciding to take an active approach is the best antidote to boredom.
Dr. Jennifer Newman and Dr. Darryl Grigg are registered psychologists and directors of Newman & Grigg Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development partnership. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality.