We all get bored with our jobs at one time or another. It's a miserable feeling, but we can continue to function, although at less than full speed. However, left unattended, boredom can get so intense and lasts so long that it results in burnout. When that happens, we are facing a costly and potentially dangerous threat to our health and our careers.
There is some comfort in knowing we are not alone if burnout strikes us. “Burnout is the biggest occupational hazard in the 21st century, " according to Christina MasLach, a PhD who has written a book on the subject. There is also solace of sorts in realizing that boredom and burnout most often strike the brightest and best, the most ambitious of us.
Recognize The Classic Symptoms
The classic symptoms of boredom are all too easy too familiar. We no longer enjoy what we are doing. We dread to go to work. One wag said, “You know you are bored when it takes twice as long to drive to work in the morning as it does to get home at night. ”
Being bored with some specific part of your job is different and more serious than suffering from boredom with the job itself. It is not unusual to find at least one-half of the things we do on any given job are boring. Critical boredom is being tired of the whole scene, day in and day out. Boredom at this level is the forerunner of burnout.
The signs of burnout include fatigue, low morale, absenteeism, fear, despair, hostility at home and on the job, increased health problems and drug or alcohol abuse, all of which pose threats to health and career.
Usually boredom and burnout grow out of such causes as our bringing more ability to a task over a period of time than the assignment warrants. In other words, we can do the job with half our brain and half our energy. We have time to get bored. Or we suffer from frustrated ambitions; we are stuck on a rung of the ladder and see no way to the top. We expect more than life can deliver and we want it now. Or we may be buckling under relentless pressure.
Unfortunately, there are no sure, instant cures . . . no pills or shots to take to cure boredom and burnout. Prevention or the healing must come, for the most part, from within ourselves.
Act today to deal with boredom and burnout. Almost any positive action is better than sitting around in a funk. Every day we delay, we sink a little deeper in the hole of despair and discouragement. One expert on the matter says, “Most maddening is the self-torturing inertia. You know you should be doing more . . . that there are lots of things you could do, but then, what’s the use?”
How To Deal With The Deadly B's
It takes a lot of good common sense, discipline and hard work to deal with the Deadly B's.
If upon rational analysis you find you are bored with your job as a whole and not just some routine part of it, you should discuss the problem with your boss and ask for a transfer to another, more challenging position. (If you can’t discuss your feelings with your boss, you have a problem of another kind. )
If a transfer is not feasible, then you need to make a dedicated effort to enlarge your present responsibilities. Or find new ways to carry them out; learn new skills. Change your daily routine. Find life-enlarging interests aside from your job.
It helps to see your job in the context of the larger mission of the organization. That is, to understand that no matter how small, you are an integral part of the organization. What you do is important.
Boredom and burnout have a hard time surviving when you learn to take pride in your work and try constantly to improve what you do.
Finally, if none of these steps provide any relief, then you need to seriously consider moving on to another position with new challenges. But you should be careful about taking this extreme step. You have to be sure that you are not running away from yourself and the realities of the challenges and periods of boredom that are inevitable parts of life.
Ramon Greenwood is former senior vice president of American Express; a professional director for various businesses; a consultant; a published author of career related books and a syndicated column. Senior career counselor for http://www.CommonSenseAtWork.com > Semi-monthly newsletter available. No charge or obligation.