‘My job is boring – what should I do?’

I often hear from people who are finding their day job unfulfilling and want to know how to add more spice to their worklife. Or more specifically, how to find a new job that is more interesting / challenging/ feels more meaningful or maybe just fits them better. 

I love this question! Although the question is simple, the answer is more complex as involves some structured reflection on exactly what makes you tick. The following answers form Part A – things to do in the workplace. Part B (coming next week) looks at things to do outside work. 

Q. My job is boring – what should I do?

A. A few things!

1.Understand what boring means to you. Firstly, I suggest looking closer at the boring. Boring – I have nothing to do – boring? Boring – the decor here is drab and leaves me feeling listless – boring? Boring – I have plenty to do but it does’t stretch my skills – boring? Boring – only now that I have a new project that’s way too hard and I’m scared of starting – boring? Or boring – I just never get to learn about new things and be creative and follow my whims – boring? Each of these borings comes about for different reasons, and each of these borings can probably be tackled in a different way.

If you are feeling under-utilised, taking on new projects or work you enjoy more might help. If you feel brain-dead it could be time for some learning or following your pursuits outside of work with more oomph. If you are actually just lonely, moving where you sit, getting involved in more team projects or finding a way to make your work more collaborative could help.

2. Understand your strengths and favourite skills. Sometimes we get caught up doing what we are good at in our jobs. That is, we drift towards roles with tasks that other people think we are good at, and are happy to give us, whether we enjoy them or not. Now, every job has moments that are a stretch or boring or challenging in some other way, BUT if you find you are no longer even sure which kinds of tasks you DO like, it is probably time to revisit that.

There are various strengths and values assessments you can do online. Another way to do this is to observe yourself during your week and take note of which tasks absorb you so much you lose track of time. Or if there aren’t any of those, see which tasks light you up, you volunteer to do, or you find yourself doing when you are procrastinating. This is a good indicator of your favourite skills. You can test out this list by reflecting on past roles and seeing if there is a pattern over time of these tasks being something you enjoy. They may not be the skills that you are ‘best at’ in the office compared to every other person, or the skills that your job especially needs and rewards, but they are  the skills that you enjoy using and are likely to be pretty good at*.

3. Use your strengths and favourite skills more at work. Once you’ve discovered what types of tasks you like most in your job (eg. Filing paperwork or talking to customers? Organising events or helping new staff? Designing ads, crunching spreadsheets, sorting out tech issues or writing new text for the website?). See if you can do more of that – either by expanding that component of your current role or as a ‘special project’ or additional task.

If your workload allows it and you have the blessings of your manager consider taking on additional duties to help with a cross-departmental project or a special event. Getting involved in consultative or management committees are another way to find some extra work to do.

Knowing our strengths and playing to our strengths at work makes us happier. For example, recent research suggests that employees who used four or more of their signature strengths had more positive work experiences and work-as-a-calling than those who expressed less than four (Harzer & Ruch, 2012a). In a study of 442 employees across 39 departments in 8 organizations, a strengths-based psychological climate was linked with positive affect and work performance (van Woerkom & Meyers, 2014).

Not only will you be more satisfied if a greater proportion of your day is spent doing tasks you enjoy, but your increased get up and go will make you much more promotable / employable if you start looking at other roles.

4. Know your favourite skills and talk about them. Once you’ve figured out that you’re someone who thrives on human contact and loves bouncing ideas around with colleagues and encouraging them (and can run off that energy for the rest of the day), or that you have an uncanny knack for sales, or you are actually really good at reconciling the books… and once you’ve tested this idea by really watching your behaviour through the week, you might need to start putting words to it and letting your coworkers and manager know.

Not sure how? Try ‘I actually really love.. (your special skill)… maybe I can help the events team out one afternoon a week in June while we’re quiet here/ help the new person learn the ropes with the monthly reporting/ take minutes in that meeting/ start doing the ordering and give you more time for your other tasks..’ (etc). People aren’t always skilled at spotting our special talents or finding us work that is a great fit – sometimes we need to speak up and gently remind people of our superpowers.

5. Give yourself a shot of learning. For many of us work can begin to feel boring once we’ve stopped learning – so exactly at the time we master the role and become extremely valued employes we are in fact getting itchy feet and wondering what’s next. If this is you consider taking a course outside of work or getting the ok to attend some training at work. Explore whether you can do some professional development in a new area relevant to your role – consider technical training, communication skills, management training etc.

6. Try teaching or reviewing. In her book ‘Refuse to Choose’, my mentor, friend and coaching teacher Barbara Sher talks about the knack of learning and then teaching and then leaving if we find ourselves begetting bored at jobs quickly. It’s a great reminder a) that we don’t have to stay in a role forever and b) that teaching is a really great and satisfying way to pass on what we’ve learnt. If you find you know the job inside out I would also add that spending some time doing a review or analysis of your sector can be satisfying. What do I mean? Scale up the view from the desk and take a whole of office perspective, or a whole of industry or sector view. Maybe it’s time to write a magazine article about the opportunities for similar organisations, or speak at a conference sharing case studies from what you’ve been working on over the past 5 years, or volunteer to sit on some kind of standards or review committee. No matter what your role there are probably ways that you can share your learning of how to do your job better or share your observations and reflections on how the role/ sector/ company works (and could work better or could better respond to an emerging challenge) with a wide audience, for the benefit of many. This can provide new challenges and interest if your role is feeling stale – if like many you feel most alive when in learning mode – and also can contribute to a feeling of ‘giving back’ and meaning in your role.

* But don’t start with what you’re good at! You wont neccessarily enjoy doing everything you’re good at.

See PART B for more ideas on handling this situation – in your non work hours

—————-

References:

Harzer, C., & Ruch, W. (2012a). When the job is a calling: The role of applying one’s signature strengths at work. Journal of Positive Psychology.

van Woerkom, M., & Meyers, M. C. (2014). My strengths count! Effects of a strengths-based psychological climate on positive affect and job performance. Human Resource Management.

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