Is being bored at work as damaging as burnout?

·Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
·5-min read
At work, boredom can make us feel miserable, unfulfilled and even guilty about not appreciating being employed. Photo: Getty
At work, boredom can make us feel miserable, unfulfilled and even guilty about not appreciating being employed. Photo: Getty

It’s just another day at your desk and you just can’t seem to muster the energy to get anything done. You can pretty much do your job in your sleep and your enthusiasm for your role faded years ago, leaving you reminiscing over times you felt happy and engaged at work. While your colleagues chat and get on with their jobs, you just feel tired and disinterested - and begin to question your career choices.

Boredom is an unpleasant feeling. At work, it can make us feel miserable, unfulfilled and even guilty about not appreciating being employed. However, it’s pretty common among workers. According to CV Library’s Candidate Behaviour Barometer survey of 1,700 employees, 35% said they search for new roles while at work due to the boredom they feel in their job.

Everyone feels bored at work occasionally, whether it’s in long meetings or when tackling dull admin tasks. But long-term boredom can have a serious impact on mental health and wellbeing. Much like burnout - a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by chronic stress - boredom can zap us of energy and motivation, while contributing to stress and low mood.

“As a Financial Services leader of nearly 20 years, let me be clear, boredom at work is inevitable and yes, that includes those who adore their job too,” says Cheryl Thompson, a career and confidence coach and mindset mentor.

“Temporary boredom doesn’t need to be a concern, as it’s only natural for any of us. But it can become an issue when the boredom becomes more deep rooted and a permanent fixture.”

Read more: Does remote working really kill career progression for women?

There are many reasons why boredom can set in at work. Changes in team members or close friends leaving work can be factors, as well as changes to your job, location or even no changes at all. Sometimes, it is possible to feel stuck in a ‘rut’ if you’ve been in the same job for a while with few opportunities for progression.

“However, the more concerning reasons for boredom are when there’s a misalignment of purpose - when an individual either does not see the value in their contribution, or they have opposing values with the business full stop,” explains Thompson. “Either way this can lead the individual feeling disconnected from their work and devaluing their own reason for being, resulting in feelings of despondency.”

In recent years, debates around workplace wellbeing have centred on the issue of burnout. However, sustained boredom can be just as damaging to mental health.

“Employees suffering with boredom may eventually become depressed and/or anxious,” says Thompson. “Their quality and quantity of work might drop. They may lose energy for what they do and have higher levels of absence, which can lead to disciplinary action from the business or termination of employment. Disengagement must be taken seriously and can be managed effectively if spotted and communicated in a safe space between employee and employer.”

Boredom can also have a lasting impact on someone’s career, too. Ultimately, unhappy employees don’t perform to the best of their abilities, which can lead to costly mistakes. Bored or disengaged workers can also impact those around them too, Thompson adds, which can negatively affect the atmosphere and energy within a company.

If you’re feeling bored at work, there are steps you can take to improve your situation. If recognised and responded to, Thompson says, boredom can be a good opportunity to start having honest, open conversations with yourself and your employer.

“The first step is to ask yourself why you are bored. Don’t offload this issue until you have explored your own feelings and behaviours,” says Thompson. Think about how boredom feels to you, what part of your job you dislike and how long you’ve felt this way.

“Can you identify why it started? Are there any triggers you can notice? What have you tried already to change this state? Are all other aspects of your life positive or are there any similar feelings outside of work too?” Thompson asks. “If you could magic away this feeling, what would you choose to replace it with? Think of some words to describe a great day for you.”

Read more: Why are big businesses firing and rehiring employees?

It’s a good idea to make small changes on your own at work first, before speaking to your manager or your employer. For example, taking regular breaks, chatting to coworkers and getting the worst tasks out of the way first can help.

If you do decide to speak to your boss, make it clear you are looking for new challenges to progress in your career. You may be able to take on a new project or change your responsibilities to make your job more interesting. However, it’s important to frame the conversation carefully to avoid upsetting your employer. “Always be tactful but truthful – remember that your boredom is someone else’s love so make sure you don’t insult them by telling them what they love is dull,” says Thompson.

And if you are in the wrong role and have another career in mind, it’s important to do your research and connect with others in those jobs. A job might seem perfect from afar, but it’s best to speak to those in the know about the reality.

Finally, boredom can often be about your own mindset and how you see your role. “If you can’t see the value in what you do and why you’re here, then ask for help - be that from your employer or a career or life coach,” says Thompson. Rather than seeing your situation as a disaster, try to consider it as an opportunity to make a positive change.

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