One of the most common issues people experience at work is boredom. Does this sound familiar?
Although the feeling may be temporary, most people will have experienced boredom at one point in their careers. They may be bored with their tasks or with their working environment more generally. It isn’t surprising when many of us work in large impersonal corporations, or have to work from home where it can be difficult to concentrate or self-motivate.
Boredom with one’s work or career is not restricted to mechanised jobs traditionally thought of as ‘boring’. In fact, boredom is a common feeling in many professional workplaces generally thought of as exciting, and it is one of the biggest contributors to work-related stress. Even analysts in a government ‘spy’ agency have to sit and listen to hours of recordings every day, which could become tedious.
Boredom usually shows up as a lack of interest, stimulation, or difficulty concentrating or connecting to your environment. There are many reasons why this can happen: you may not feel that your tasks are varied or significant enough, or it could be that you don’t have enough opportunities to interact with colleagues or to receive feedback on your work. Boredom is an undervalued emotion, but it can be an important signal that what you’re doing right now isn’t working for you. The consequences of boredom for your wellbeing and performance are also significant: reduced motivation, poor performance, and counterproductive behaviours.
To alleviate boredom in the workplace, employers can do a number of things such as reducing the number of meetings, eliminating or redistributing bureaucratic tasks, and minimising micromanagement. There are also some things that employees can do themselves though, which don’t necessarily require looking for another job or seeking outside stimulations (such as spending time on social media).
It’s important to recognise the positive aspects of this ‘boring’ emotion. Although many people view it as something negative that quickly needs to be banished, boredom does have some upsides and can end up being good for your mental health.
First, in order to be successful at overcoming boredom, you shouldn’t try to avoid being bored but use it as a learning opportunity. Lean into it and become curious about it: ‘What is this telling me?’, ‘What can I learn from this?’. Boredom gives us the chance to understand ourselves and our situation better, and to discover what makes us tick.
Second, it can be an opportunity to think about what career goals you want to achieve and what activities hold meaning for you. Looking for meaning can be energising, and boredom can provide an opportunity to think of new ideas, goals, and motivating projects. When you next feel bored, rather than checking your phone, view it as a rare chance to explore how you can enhance your creativity and find more meaning in your life.
Managing boredom requires effort, but it can be a very useful source of information. With research showing that people who experience a great deal of boredom are more likely to die young than those who are more engaged with the world, it seems particularly relevant for us to pay attention to this complex emotion and use it to our advantage.
Séverine Hubscher-Davidson, PhD is an academic and freelance writer based in Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire.