3 Reasons Why You’re Bored at Work, and How to Break the Cycle

Is boredom burning you out at work? Learn how to harness it to create big change for yourself.

According to some, being bored is unacceptable. But for almost half of the American workforce, boredom is simply an everyday (or at least regularly occurring) part of having a job.

With more and more workers becoming one-person enterprises, finding new and different ways to chase job satisfaction and that ever-elusive work-life balance, it’s surprising that so many are still going through the motions. But before you go all Office Space and eschew all employment responsibilities completely, it might be helpful to understand why exactly you’re feeling checked out, and what you can do to get re-engaged.

Reason #1: You’re a bad fit.

Motivation is internal. We can will ourselves to go the extra mile at any time. But there are some situations where the reward for hard work either doesn’t exist, or doesn’t mesh with what we perceive as a desired result. This happens often to employees who feel that, for one reason or another, something is just “off” about their work environment.

Perhaps you’re overqualified for the job you have. Maybe there’s no potential of you advancing in title or pay anytime soon. Or maybe you’re an outside-the-box thinker stuck in an office of process-oriented spreadsheet fanatics.

Feeling of uneasiness or disconnectedness in the workplace can quickly lead to boredom. Frustrations turn into resentment, and that can be an overpowering emotion. Instead of focusing on the tasks at hand, energies get spread outwardly and a “what’s the point?” mentality begins to take over.

The good news is, that feeling can often be a great catalyst for change. The even better news is, you have the power to make the change. It’s actually healthy to acknowledge an unmotivating situation as just that, rather than try to fight it. Once you reach a certain breaking point, your desired result of a life change becomes the reward for which you will begin working hard. And yes, looking for a job that fits you better (or blazing your own trail) can be some of the most important work you’ll ever do.

Reason #2: You don’t have enough to do.

This seems obvious enough. Lack of activity equals boredom. But there’s more to it than that.

No job description ever reads, “aimlessly browse the internet for hours at a time,” so employees that find themselves occupying their hours with mindless distractions are adding the stress of potentially being discovered. While doing “nothing” and getting paid for it sounds like the ultimate dream (for some), the reality is the fewer meaningful hours we put in at our jobs, the more likely we are to feel like frauds at our desks.

Of course, there will always be the occasional slow day, even at the most innovative and gung-ho companies. In fact, truly revolutionary organizations would be wise to schedule in mandatory down times to boost creativity. But mental health breaks are only good ideas when they truly are breaks. Being underutilized at work doesn’t allow us to mentally recharge and let our minds wander so they’re more open when we return to job-related tasks.

As soon as you sense that your skills aren’t being put to the best use, speak up. Ask to take on assignments from outside of your immediate department if necessary.

The challenge of having to prove yourself can be a great motivator, so don’t shy away from seeking opportunities to contribute in ways your bosses may not have considered for you. Idly sitting by, or using the office to work (or play) on personal projects while collecting a paycheck can turn you into a habitual underachiever quickly.

Reason #3: Your expectations are too high.

We are in many ways defined by the occupations we have. So it’s only natural that we expect our jobs to be sources of constant stimulation and fulfillment.

For high achievers, a job’s function is to provide a solution at every level of the hierarchy of needs – a source of income to cover the basics, a camaraderie builder that fosters a sense of belonging with peers, a self-esteem booster, and ultimately a place to become self-actualized. That is a tall order.

If you were to place those burdens on another person, they would crumble under the pressure. Likewise, a job can’t reasonably be expected to deliver on each need all the time.

When we’re bored, it doesn’t mean we don’t have a choice of what to do. It means none of the available options are stimulating enough to us, so we forego them entirely. Seeking out validation through employment can have the same effect, as we tend to gravitate toward highly stimulating tasks that may not come around often enough to satisfy our needs.

When you’re bored, it’s important to remember that you’re not stuck. Your mind still has the power to create, whether it’s a brilliant idea about a new product innovation for the company you currently work for, or a proactive scheme about how to change your employment situation. You always have the ability to learn, grow and be productive.

While workplace boredom exists and should be taken seriously, never allow yourself to fall victim to using it as a crutch. You are the only one who can make the decision to achieve what you want.

By Jeff PruittChairman and CEO, Tallwave