I don’t often get bored at work. This sounds like a bit of a humblebrag but it’s really just because I’m lucky in my job. I have lots of interesting stuff to do most days, and I meet lots of interesting people. I have a decent balance between in-office (making things and planning things) and out-office (gallivanting around talking to people). Variety is the spice of life, after all.
Lots of other people don’t have it so lucky. A recent survey has shown that one in four staff complain of “chronic boredom.” I had always assumed that being bored at work was easier than being overworked and stressed. If all you do is sit around on BBC Sport and drink coffee… well, it can’t be that bad, can it?
So I was interested to discover that being bored at work is actually just as bad for you as being constantly under pressure. In fact, it can even be worse for your health! Researchers from the University of Central Lancashire found that people who are consistently bored are more likely to resort to chocolate and coffee pick-me-ups to get them through the day. Not a massive surprise, but bored staff are also more likely to have an alcoholic drink at the end of the day, which I found interesting (especially as all I ever seem to hear in the pub is how hard people work).
Researchers from University College London followed more than 7,000 civil servants for more than 25 years and found that those who complained of chronic boredom were 2.5 times more likely to die before their time of heart attack or stroke. Possibly because they eat all that chocolate and drink all that coffee and booze, but the result is still an eye-opener.
I’m going to quote directly from the article I found on this:
“There is an opposite state to the widely known ‘burn-out’, and that’s ‘rust-out’ – where people are in un-stimulating and undemanding jobs and they get bored,” says corporate psychologist Ben Williams. “Ironically this has very similar effects on their health than if they were over-worked and highly stressed. Their health suffers and from a corporate point of view they ultimately become less productive.”
I suppose people don’t complain about being bored as much as being overworked because they don’t want to be mocked or looked down on. But it turns out that being overworked is actually a preferable state. According to this article from Psychology Today, a survey by Sirota Consulting LLC of more than 800,000 employees at 61 organizations worldwide found those with “too little work” gave an overall job satisfaction rating of 49 out of 100, while those with “too much work” had a rating of 57.
Jeffrey M. Saltzman, chief executive of Sirota, said “When you say you have too much work to do, other things are happening in your head: ‘I’m valued by the organization. They’re giving me responsibility.’ That’s better than being in the other place where you say I’m not of value in this place.”
So boredom stresses you out, and makes you less productive. I think that a lot of what we do at Inspire is simply combating boredom: we demonstrate better, quicker ways to do things that are more stimulating. The less time you have to devote to monotony the more creative and empowered you are in the rest of your work. It’s not just a matter of available time: being bored had a negative impact on your creativity all day!
The article I reference above suggests three reasons why you might be bored at work. They’re pretty comprehensive, but I think I can suggest simpler, more inclusive ones. The good news is that all three can be addressed.
1. You’re underworked. You literally don’t have enough to do in the day. You might have to stretch out the tasks you’re given to fill up time. You might have given up on asking your supervisor for more tasks, or you might spend most of your time waiting for other people to give you the go ahead/return their feedback so you can move on. This also counts if you feel your work isn’t important or noticed. You might spend all day slogging away, but if your work has no effect or impact… well, you might as well not be bothering.
Solution: there’s always more work to be done if you can find it. The first step is to talk to people: inform your colleagues and employer. Not in a bragging way (“This is too easy! Bring me a greater challenge!”), but in a manner that demonstrates that you’re being underutilised. Finally, discuss taking on jobs outside of your orbit. Just because a company doesn’t have a person doing a specific task, doesn’t mean that task doesn’t exist. There might be new things to do that are well out of your current jurisdiction that might benefit the company. You’ll appear enthusiastic, and have an opportunity to broaden your skillset and experience. Just don’t bite off more than you can chew!
2. You’re uninterested in what you do. There might be a disconnect between what you do and how you feel about it. Your job might be busy, challenging, even stressful, but if you don’t feel involved or enthusiastic about what you do then you can still feel bored. These feelings of antipathy can develop even if you once felt involved. You might feel constrained by processes beyond your control.
Solution: again, talk to people. Firstly, just to get a sense of why your job is necessary: who it affects, and what else they might need from you. Secondly, it’ll give you a sense of what you might prefer to do. If there’s really nothing within your current environment that you might find satisfying, you could consider looking elsewhere, but you’d be surprised how often a change is good enough. If you’re bored in a job that once enthused you, it may be that you’re stuck in your comfort zone, or that you feel constrained by rules that you no longer need to follow. This Guardian article points out that many jobs contain prescriptive guidelines: people assume that there’s only one way of doing things. But you may have more autonomy than you think. If you were presented with a specific way of doing things on day 1, and it’s now day 1000, think about whether those rules still apply to you. Ask your colleagues and employer if it might be appropriate for you to shake things up a bit. Bosses might be surprised to find that you aren’t being stretched, and if you can suggest work methods that are generally more productive or useful, they aren’t likely to mind you going off piste!
3. Your work simply isn’t challenging. You have stuff to do all day, but you find it easy, or dull. You rarely feel stretched.
Solution: it might be time to look elsewhere. This doesn’t necessarily mean quitting or anything so dramatic, but you may have to look outside your work environment. The first option is to begin learning something else, either through work or in your personal life. If your job isn’t challenging, find something that is. If you can up-skill then fantastic, but you’ll find that doing something diverting outside your job will have a positive impact inside. And in the end… well, perhaps you’ll have to find something else. People do outgrow their jobs.
Remember, if you’re bored, and you’re actually working hard, then you’re being underutilised. It’s not in anyone’s interests to get less out of you than you can give. I think in a lot of cases people don’t consider seeking extra activities: your job is your job and you don’t often look outside of it. Being bored can sap your energy, even the energy you need to look for something more interesting! The first step is to admit to yourself that you’re bored, and then decide to do something about it. Don’t be ashamed to say so. Being ashamed is boring.