I was asked recently whether it is better to be bored or stressed at work? Really? Given a choice I’d certainly prefer not to be either but it certainly got me thinking.
The first question you should be asking yourself is why are you bored? Is there truly not enough work to be done? Are you stuck doing mindless, repetitive work? Are they just too busy to train you? Is this a temporary situation or on-going? Are they not giving you projects because you lack the skill set to do what is needed? The cause of the boredom can impact your response.
When you are bored at work your interest and motivation wanes. Often the quality of your work goes down because you are not paying enough attention to the details.
Proactively seek opportunities to help others with their work. Offer your services and be specific about the ways you can add value. Hopefully someone will take you up on your offer. Identify training opportunities. Are their online training modules you can complete? Is there relevant industry research you can review? What projects does the boss have on the back burner and how can you help at least get those started. Find something of value to fill your days.
For me, the most challenging situation in my career was a time very early in my career when I was bored and I only lasted with the company six months. When there is not enough work to do, you develop bad work habits as you try to stretch the existing work to fill the time. You become easily distracted and they day seems eternally long. There is little to motivate you or to make you feel loyal to the company. After begging for work and demonstrating a willingness to do whatever was needed, I made the decision to leave and never regretted it.
Most companies have limited resources these days to get the job done. If they have a resource they are not utilizing, shame on them! If you can’t convince them to give you more work, it could be a clear signal that it is time to seek another opportunity.
Working under stress has become much more common in the American workplace. It is unfortunate because stress has significant medical consequences. Employees working under significant stress for a period of time are putting their health at risk. Again, ask yourself some questions. Is the stress due to a specific event or deadline so there is an end in sight? Is management causing the stress by making unrealistic demands on your time or are you setting unrealistic expectations of yourself?
Workers under stress are not likely to do their best work. They don’t have the luxury of taking time to think about an issue or to gather input. Rushing to meet a deadline often results in careless errors which drive more stress trying to rework the data in a timely manner. Stress often drives employees to just work more hours. At some point the law of diminishing returns kicks in. You cannot deliver quality work if you are exhausted. You are not even able to think clearly. It is important to sleep well, eat well, get some exercise to manage the stress and to spend time with family and/or friends. Working all the time is not healthy.
The work culture has become much more 24/7 with instant communications. This inability to effectively turn work off for a few hours can be very draining to employees and takes a toll on their morale and their productivity. Highly stressed workers are typically not happy workers and are much more likely to seek other opportunities – if they can handle the added stress of a job search!
Ideally, the workplace should not create a steady environment of either stress or boredom. Employees feeling constant pressure from either should have a conversation with their managers to address the issues and to implement a plan to minimize the issues going forward.
Personally, while I would strive to minimize either boredom or stress in any role, I’d take stress over boredom any day. At least with stress, I am doing something that matters and I care about doing it well. I’d choose that any day over being bored. Maybe a boring day every once in a while would help with the stress, but that is not likely to happen!