If you find yourself going through the motions, waiting for the workday to be over, you might be bored at work. A recent Gallup poll shows you’re not alone, either. In the survey, only 32 percent of employees said they were engaged in their work in 2022. And that’s down from 34 percent in 2021 and 36 percent in 2020.
There’s lots of possible reasons for feeling bored at work — and ways you can address it too.
Ways to Combat Boredom at Work
- Learn new skills and seek out professional development opportunities.
- Get to know your coworkers better.
- Remind yourself of the people your work benefits.
- Talk to your manager about reshaping your role.
Reasons for Being Bored at Work
Employees can be bored for a variety of different reasons. The Gallup poll showed that the most significant factors contributing to employees’ lack of engagement are:
- Unclear expectations.
- Disconnection from the company’s mission.
- Not feeling cared about.
- Lack of opportunities to learn and grow.
- Not able to do what they do best.
While these engagement factors took the biggest hit in the most recent Gallup poll, we talked with HR and management experts about other circumstances that can cause employees to feel bored at work.
Lack of Challenge and Impact
Employees may also feel disengaged when they feel like their job is not challenging or that they are not able to use their skills to make an impact.
These feelings can be particularly prevalent in employees under the age of 35, according to the Gallup study. Amy Colbert, a professor of management and entrepreneurship at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business, said young adults entering the workforce can sometimes feel discouraged when their first job out of college doesn’t feel like it is making a difference in the world.
“We get into jobs that don’t have the growth potential that keeps up with our growth as individuals.”
Employee engagement may have dropped off fastest with younger workers, but that doesn’t mean they are the only ones feeling bored at work. Longer-tenured employees can sometimes find themselves eventually growing bored of a job they once found satisfying.
“We get into jobs that don’t have the growth potential that keeps up with our growth as individuals,” Colbert told Built In. “When that happens, boredom may evolve in a job where there wasn’t boredom originally.”
Misalignment Between Business Needs and Employee Skills
Employees can also feel discouraged when the job isn’t a good fit for them. This sometimes happens in the tech world, where companies pivot suddenly to meet new demands.
Megan Bickle, an HR leader at data storage company Western Digital, said organizational pivots can result in employees working a drastically different job than they signed up for without any formal communication about the new role and its expectations.
Bickle said companies should strive to do a better job of identifying which skills will be needed in the future and then giving employees the chance to learn those skills over the next one to three years.
In some organizations, though, direct managers may not know about the needs of the organization at-large, which is another communication challenge those organizations should address.
“As organizations’ needs pivot and change, we should be mindful of how we are having conversations with people and setting goals accordingly,” Bickle told Built In. “We should be talking about their transferable skills and asking them if they still enjoy what they do and if they would like to do something different [within the organization].”
Boreout vs. Burnout
The subject of burnout and the need for better work-life balance has received more attention in recent years, especially as the shift to remote work has blurred the lines between our personal and professional lives. In 2019, the World Health Organization recognized burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” characterized by feelings of exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job and reduced professional efficacy.
Experts are beginning to think that workers who are bored in their job may experience a similar sense of burnout that they call “boreout.”
What Is Boreout?
Boreout describes feelings of apathy due to disinterest in one’s work, while burnout is characterized by feelings of exhaustion from too much work.
Business consultants Peter Werder and Philippe Rothlin first coined the term “boreout” in 2007 to describe the feelings of apathy and withdrawal they observed in disinterested employees. While boreout is not as well-documented as burnout, a 2020 study from Turkey found that bored, disengaged workers were more likely to experience depression, anxiety and stress.
Boredom Causes sTRESS
Nikolas Williams, a senior neuroscience researcher for bioinformatics startup Emotiv, said the concept of boreout makes sense — boredom stresses people out.
“Boredom in and of itself is stressful,” Williams told Built In. “We eventually become aroused and keyed up, looking for something to do. If we don’t have an outlet for that, we’ll try to find one because that condition is really uncomfortable.”
In a study from 2014, for instance, researchers left participants alone in a room for 15 minutes with nothing but a button that administered an electric shock. Although all of the participants had previously said they would pay money to avoid electrical shock, 67 percent of men and 25 percent of women chose to shock themselves rather than spend 15 minutes alone with their thoughts.
While this study depicts a different type of boredom than that of an unsatisfying job, it does illustrate the degree to which our brains strive for engagement and fulfillment. Williams said it can be stressful for people who can’t find that outlet.
“The stress of being bored ... is definitely going to cause a myriad of mental and physical health symptoms.”
“The stress of being bored, that chronic stress is definitely going to cause a myriad of mental and physical health symptoms,” Williams said. “If you’re too bored, you’re going to disengage. The more bored you are, the more difficult it’s going to be to actually engage with something because your attention has been divided.”
Colbert, the professor of management and entrepreneurship, agreed that a prolonged sense of disengagement can be exhausting for employees.
“If you’re doing work that feels monotonous, that doesn’t feel as though it’s giving you the opportunity to learn and grow, it doesn’t provide the opportunity to learn new skills, which we know is motivating,” Colbert said. “Those kinds of jobs may lead to exhaustion, not because they’re too big, but because they’re too small.”
4 Ways to Combat Boredom at Work
Oftentimes, frustrated or disengaged employees will feel like their problems will be solved by finding a new job, but Colbert said that employees should only do so if they have been honest with themselves about what their current job is missing and what they hope a new job will provide.
“I think it’s useful to go through an exercise in which you ask yourself, ‘What are you really trying to accomplish in your work? What do you value? Is your work giving you that opportunity to fulfill those needs? Is your organization consistent with those values?’” Colbert said. “To go through that exercise means that the next job you choose may be one where you don’t just end up in this cycle of dissatisfying jobs. You’ll really be able to improve your fit over time.”
If you decide to stay in your job, here are four things that could spark interest in your work.
1. Learn New Skills
Employees who feel like they are stuck in a rut may feel satisfaction from learning new skills. In a Udemy study, 80 percent of bored employees said they would be more engaged by learning new skills.
Kristy McCann Flynn, the founder and CEO of SkillCycle, said employee development is key to keeping employees engaged in their role. After leading HR teams at Pearson and Constant Contact, she co-founded SkillCycle, which helps employers provide personalized development plans designed around an employees’ performance review feedback.
“When you lead with learning at the bedrock, and you’re offering opportunities for people to learn about their career path, the internal mobility really starts to come to life because you're providing skills that they need for the future and what those competencies are and how they’re going to get there,” she told Built In.
If a company doesn’t provide learning and development opportunities, seek out professional development classes through online learning platforms, where you can pick up technical skills, sharpen your people skills and show your supervisor that you are eager to grow.
Not sure where to start? Try scheduling an informational interview with someone in your dream job so you can learn what skills or steps are needed to build toward a similar role.
2. Develop Personal Relationships
Gallup studies have shown that employees are more likely to be engaged with their work when they have work friends. If you are feeling stuck in your job, Colbert suggests developing personal relationships with coworkers, even if they’re not on your direct team.
Making friends might take more effort in remote work environments. While remote work can reduce commute times and improve work-life balance, it also removes some of the rapport-building small talk that can feel unproductive in a video call. Although those moments may seem small, they can contribute to employees’ sense of belonging and commitment to their organization.
“Even if the work itself has become somewhat routine or monotonous, those connections can at least provide the positive feelings at work — the kind of fun and enjoyment — that can balance out a sense of burnout and that can make it easier to continue in your work,” Colbert said.
3. Recover Your Sense of Impact
Another way for you to re-engage with your work is by shifting your mindset to think about the impact you have on your clients or your business.
This idea, called “cognitive reframing,” could involve you thinking about — or gaining feedback from — the clients, users or other stakeholders that are impacted by your work.
“Having those opportunities for people to connect to the people who benefit from their work may just remind them that there is purpose in that work,” Colbert said, “and it may help prevent the burnout that can come from a job that you’ve done for a long time.”
4. Reshape Your Role (With Your Manager’s Help)
To reduce burnout, Colbert suggests employees talk with their supervisor about ways to tweak their job responsibilities to more closely align with their interests, skills or career goals. This idea, called job crafting, could include looking for a new project, joining a new committee or connecting with people outside of one’s department.
“If we have the opportunity to shape our own path, to do work that allows us to grow and that makes a difference, we’re much less likely to burn out,” Colbert said. “We’re more likely to be engaged and have those positive well-being outcomes from work.”