If You’re Bored At Work, This May Be Why…

19 Oct

This is a guest post from fabulous writer Liz O’Neill who writes college and career-related articles for several websites and higher education blogs, including eLearners.com, GradSchools.com and the Huffington Post’s College page. She’s also the Boston Examiner for online learning. You can follow her on Twitter @SomethingKnew

Why You’re Bored at Work

Your first job after college should feel like a major accomplishment – especially if you landed it in this tough economy.  But for many professionals – young and old alike – work is not the rewarding experience they envisioned.  Instead, they count the unbearable minutes until day’s end.  They fight the urge to unplug the alarm clock every weekday morning.  They brave their commutes like a recurring death march.

And all because: they are bored by their jobs.

Sitcoms and films like The Office and Office Space garner such devoted followings because the stories they depict are so bitterly familiar.  Nonsensical protocol.  Inept superiors.  Petty status wars.  Unnerving minutiae.  In the abstract, these annoyances are comical.  In reality, they threaten workers’ productivity, morale, and overall quality of life.

Being bored at work is very different from the benign frustration of a kid on a rainy day.  Your career is a major part of your life; it’s both how you define yourself and how you support yourself.  If your professional goals and responsibilities aren’t progressing, or at least stimulating at their current level, you’re more likely to burn out, underperform, or just plain quit.  Identifying why you’re bored will help you isolate the best solution and rehabilitate your daily grind.

The Work Is Too Easy for You

This sounds like a fact you would promptly recognize on your own – and perhaps you already have.  But a surprising number of employees don’t recognize that they’re bored because they’re simply not being challenged.  One reason people fail to notice is that every new job entails a fair amount of stress and adjustment.  At first, you might feel mentally taxed without realizing that very little of that effort corresponds with your actual work duties.

We’re also conditioned to believe that less work or an “easy” job is appealing.  We might think that we envy the receptionist, who fields a few phone calls but spends most of the day filing her nails.  Or we might compare our choices with those of similarly-paid, but less pressured workers.  Toll booth attendants earn a higher hourly wage than teachers’ aides.  Should we too have opted for something simpler?

No, say career counselors.  Time and again job satisfaction surveys indicate that people would rather be overworked and engaged than underworked and detached.  Over-extended employees at least enjoy the confidence that they are needed and trusted with multiple assignments.  Under-occupied employees are left wondering how employers perceive their worth, perhaps even second-guessing their own abilities.

Very few jobs are inflexible to some form of review and expansion.  Ask your boss if you can be included on a new initiative, or take charge of an independent assignment.  No one will fault you for wanting more responsibility.  And if you do well, you’ll be promoted that much quicker.

Your Contribution Is Unclear

If you work in a hospital or a social services environment, you’re lucky enough to see the results of your labor every day.  (These working environments, of course, also come with many downsides and up-close perspectives on life’s saddest injustices.)   But a great many people work for companies and organizations that pen employees behind a wall of facelessness.  The higher ups don’t know the underlings names or what they do.  Worse, the employees themselves aren’t aware of how their efforts impact the bottom line.  How do such workers derive any sense of contribution?

They waste time on Facebook.

NielsenWire recently featured a post that showed Americans’ online activity preferences are overwhelmingly interactive.  Despite our love of leisure, we don’t primarily use the Net to watch videos or shop for shoes.  In actuality, Americans are far more interested in online activities that allow them to contribute.  Most notably, we participate in social networks.  Reading, responding to, and updating profiles is nearly tantamount to a part-time job; it’s certainly more taxing than surfing eBay.  Yet Americans would rather do the work, and feel socially involved, than zone out, and feel isolated.

What’s the takeaway?  Managers shouldn’t be surprised when you ask to get looped in on status updates or company reports.  Make it clear that you’re not looking for praise, but a clearer way to understand and improve upon your performance.  If your company doesn’t require it already, ask for a list of your personal business objectives.  Sit down with your supervisor at regular intervals, to weigh how thoroughly you’re meeting those objectives.

There’s No Room for Individuality

Many experts submit that “boredom is not a consequence of lack of things to do, but is due to an inability to connect with a specific activity.”  How you connect with your job is surprisingly similar to how you connect with friendships or even romantic relationships.  That is, you inject your distinctive personality, your strengths, your creativity, your unique way of thinking.

If you can’t connect, the relationship is bound to fail.  But “creativity,” despite how we often think of it, doesn’t have to mean wildly artsy projects.  On the job creativity can be as simple (and as effective) as suggesting a new approach to a client concern.  It might also mean planning an office picnic, or some other event aimed at employee welfare.

Anything that creates an interesting foothold for you can be the start of newfound enthusiasm for your work.  Research suggests that an employee’s level of pride in his or her company directly correlates to his or her productivity, and eventually to consumer satisfaction with the brand.  In other words, find a way to make work “yours.”

If you work on an assembly line, you’re probably doubting that there’s any way to add your creativity to 8 hours of repetitive tasks.  And you’re probably right.  Some roles are inherently cut and dry.  Employers who have to staff such roles view high turnover rates as the cost of doing business. But you don’t have to view yourself that way.

In the short-term, many of us rely on less than ideal jobs to feed our families and stay afloat.  In the meantime, it’s still important to recognize that the job is less than ideal, so you can begin to plan an exit strategy and a more satisfying career path, along with whatever training that entails.

Thanks Liz! As we venture out into our daily routine these are great and important factors to take into consideration, after all if you are going to spend eight hours a day working you should feel challenged, stimulated and happy.

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5 Responses to “If You’re Bored At Work, This May Be Why…”

  1. Ashley Cray February 20, 2011 at 4:56 pm #

    I love this blog site! I just subscribed to it 🙂 Thank you for the wonderful posts for young professionals!!

  2. Kristin M October 30, 2011 at 5:59 pm #

    Just found this blog, and I think it’s great! I found this post particularly relatable. I’ve been working at a company for about three and a half years now, and it took a while to realize why I was so bored. A lot of it has to do with unclear contribution and a lack of outlet for creativity. Once I realized that, I started taking steps to fix it, and am now working towards a Masters degree in an area that I feel will allow me to contribute and be creative in the next company I work for. Thanks again for this post, and I look forward to your future posts!

  3. Terri December 11, 2011 at 7:22 pm #

    Or maybe we’re bored because we don’t give the job a chance. Even if it wasn’t originally the dream job, maybe it could be…

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Are you bored at work? | feel all, dare all, try all - February 5, 2011

    […] across this post on The Mad Grad, and it outlines several reasons why you’re bored at […]

  2. Overcoming boredom « herbirthmarks - May 23, 2012

    […] like feeling, would have even settled for a yahoo answer. I found this great article “If you’re bored at work, this may be why” from the Mad Grad. It’s an article that features writer Liz O’Neill who writes […]

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