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.
Experts are beginning to think that workers who are bored in their jobs may experience “boreout” — a phenomenon similar to burnout that stems from feelings of apathy due to disinterest in one’s work. Like burnout, it can take a toll, both personally and professionally.
“Boredom in and of itself is stressful,” Nikolas Williams, a senior neuroscience researcher for bioinformatics startup Emotiv, 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 fact, a surprisingly large number of participants in a 2014 study voluntarily administered electric shocks to themselves to combat boredom — despite telling researchers they would pay money to avoid getting shocked.
Below we cover the various factors that cause boredom at work, as well as the ways you can address it.
Why You’re Bored at Work
There are lots of possible reasons for feeling bored at work. Some may be inherent to the job itself, and others may be due to the company culture or management.
1. Your Job Is Too Easy
Employees can sometimes find themselves eventually growing bored of a job they once found satisfying, but that no longer provides a sense of challenge.
“We get into jobs that don't have the growth potential that keeps up with our growth as individuals,” said Amy Colbert, a professor of management and entrepreneurship at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business. “When that happens, boredom may evolve in a job where there wasn't boredom originally.”
2. Your Work Feels Meaningless
Your boredom might stem from the sense that you’re not making much of an impact. People draw motivation and purpose from knowing they add value to their organization or community. The lack of such a feeling can lead to apathy — even resentment — at work.
These feelings are particularly prevalent in employees under the age of 35, according to the Gallup study.
Colbert has noticed this trend too: 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.
3. Your Work Feels Repetitive or Monotonous
A job that requires you to do the same thing over and over, sometimes without expending much critical thinking or creativity, can lead to boredom. And that sort of boredom often causes exhaustion.
“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 … may lead to exhaustion,” Colbert said. “Not because they’re too big, but because they’re too small.”
4. You Don’t Have Enough Autonomy
Many employees want some sort of control over their jobs, whether that’s setting their own deadlines, structuring their workdays or completing tasks in ways that work best for them.
If your job doesn’t allow for that sort of autonomy — or if you report to a micromanager — it probably won’t take long before you start feeling discouraged, restricted and a bit bored at work.
5. You Feel Like Your Skills and Talents Are Being Wasted
Employees can also feel bored when the job isn’t a good fit for them, or if they’re asked to take on responsibilities that don’t align with what they’re actually good at. 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. This, in turn, can lead to disengagement.
What to Do If You’re Bored at Work
Often, the boredom you experience in your job is outside of your control. That said, there may be opportunities for you to pursue that’ll leave you feeling more engaged and excited at work.
1. Break Up Tedious Tasks
Experimenting with various productivity techniques may help your job feel more manageable and increase your efficiency at work, even though it doesn’t necessarily solve the underlying issues that may be causing boredom.
One way is to break up tedious tasks into smaller chunks and stagger them throughout the day. That way, you can avoid being stuck on one boring task for too long, and you assert a bit of autonomy over your schedule.
2. Pursue Passion Projects
This isn’t permission to neglect your core work responsibilities. But if you have extra time on your hands, why not spend some of it working on a side project that interests you? Depending on what you do for work, it could be designing a product or developing a proposal for doing things differently. Who knows? Maybe it’ll impress your boss and lead to a promotion.
3. Hang Out With Your Coworkers
Employees are more likely to be engaged with their jobs when they have work friends. So if you’re feeling stuck, try developing personal relationships with coworkers — even if they’re not on your direct team.
“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.
4. Learn a New Skill
Employees who feel like they are bored or 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.
5. Volunteer for New Projects
One way to inject a little variety into your work life — as well as level up your skills and acquire some bragging material ahead of your performance review — is to seek out opportunities to take on new projects. Bring this up with your manager. Maybe it’s as simple as running the next team meeting, organizing a lunch-and-learn or picking up extra work that’s on your manager’s plate.
6. Seek Out Professional Development Opportunities
If you’re bored at work, it may be time to acquire new skills so you can take on more challenges. To get there, you can ask your company if they have any professional development programs or resources available.
Kristy McCann Flynn, founder and CEO of SkillCycle, said employee development is key to keeping employees engaged in their role.
“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.
7. Network With Other Professionals
You can put downtime to good use by networking with other professionals in your industry. That way, you can talk more frequently about the things in your job that actually do excite you. You can also use networking to your advantage if you’re looking to switch careers entirely. 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.
8. Look for Silver Linings
It’s understandable to be bored at work if your job doesn’t feel like it provides you with a whole lot of purpose. But you might be making more of an impact than you think.
One way to try 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.”
9. Talk to Your Boss About New Responsibilities
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, is all about taking on new challenges at work.
“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.”
10. Try to Find a New Job
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.”
That said, at the end of the day, the best course of action for when you’re bored at work may still be to pursue a career elsewhere.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it normal to get bored at work?
Yes. In a 2022 Gallup poll, only 32 percent of employees said they were engaged in their work.
What do I do when I am bored at work?
Good strategies for addressing boredom at work include learning new skills, taking on projects that better align with your interests and building personal relationships with your coworkers.