How to overcome boredom in your work and get your mojo back.
Imagine this. You start a new job. It’s exciting and fulfilling. There are challenges, of course, and you’re on a steep learning curve. But that’s part of the fun. Every day you feel invigorated.
But then time passes by. A couple of years maybe. And suddenly, what was once exciting and fulfilling has now become tedious and boring.
What has happened?
Unsuspectingly, you have entered a phase in your career called Role Fatigue. It happens to almost everybody at one point or other. And it’s detrimental to you, your career and your organization.
Before we move onto the reasons for Role Fatigue, let’s look at a true story of a leader who experienced the condition.
WENDY: A CAUTIONARY TALE
Wendy heads business development at a major technology company. She is a seasoned leader in her early 40s and been with the company for 6 years. I was introduced to her by a leader whom I had coached in the same company. As we settled into the funky office cafeteria with our coffees, Wendy shared that she had been doing her current role for three and a half years. She had grown the business by almost 50 per cent year-on-year, and she and her team were very proud of this achievement. It had been a great learning experience.
However, she shared that she was beginning to feel that she was repeating her past achievements and that the steep curve she had experienced in the beginning was starting to plateau. With a wry smile, she said. “I see a lot of inertia in myself. I’m repeating the behavior that has been established. The thinking process has become programmed because I have learnt the skill and I don’t challenge myself much. It’s becoming a very smooth ride. I do need attention, but I feel that I’m comfortable taking my mind off it. This could be dangerous in so many ways because I am not challenging myself.”
I was intrigued, she came across as such a solid and confident leader. I prodded her further.
“Honestly Ritu, I think externally nothing is visible. My team doesn’t see anything. They see me as engaged and focused. But that’s because this is a practiced skill. The dilemma is inside. It’s all internal to me. I wonder how much I am challenging myself intellectually. I feel like there’s a strong yearning in me to learn new things.”
Listening to Wendy made me think that there could be many leaders out there who might find themselves at this crossroads. As they face this dilemma, I wondered who they would speak to? Who could they trust to discuss the issue with? If they did discuss it with their manager, what would the the outcome be? Would their direct report understand. Try and help them out? Or would they see it as a weakness and wonder whether the person was up to the job?
That got me thinking more. Are organizations really open and ready to have this kind of conversation with their people? How do they proactively deal with it?
I’ve spoken with many leaders who started out in a job with excitement and fervor, which quickly abated in a matter of a few years. Soon, the steep learning curve they embarked on plateaued - and they found themselves on autopilot. Boredom started to set in. For a while, most of them quietly enjoyed this phase, as it gave them a breather and some ‘free’ time. But when this continued beyond a few months it became worrisome.
What Wendy was experiencing is called Role Fatigue and is one of the most common triggers for Leader’s Block (which I explain briefly at the end of this paper).
THE REASONS FOR ROLE FATIGUE
There are various reasons for Role Fatigue – the most common one being boredom. Which builds up by virtue of doing the same job over a prolonged period of time.
But it’s important to know that everyone is different. For some, boredom can set in after two years and for others after six. While some, the lucky ones, continue to enjoy their job even after ten years or more.
Although Role Fatigue is often associated with the length of tenure in a job, there’s much more to it than that. Lack of creativity, for example, can lead to Role Fatigue. The absence of daily challenges play a part too.
For instance, if you’re in a company where there are no new products being launched, no creativity required in your day to day job, no challenges to rise to and you’re in a role which is more about maintaining the status quo than innovation, then boredom can set in rapidly.
Role Fatigue can arise when there is no mental or intellectual stimulation. When the role becomes repetitive and there’s very little scope for learning or improvisation.
In addition, Role Fatigue has been linked to the working environment. If the culture within an organization, a department or a team, doesn’t allow the leader to thrive - or express their creativity – then Role Fatigue will seep in. That’s because, in those types of environments, leaders begin to lose interest. They don’t look forward coming to work. They start feeling disengaged and disinterested. They lose their passion and mojo for the job they once loved.
Is this leader you?
If it is, leaving your job may not be the optimal solution. At a senior level, job opportunities become far and few between. That can be further compounded by personal situations. The inability to relocate your family, for example. A slow economy. Or a contracting industry.
SOLUTIONS TO ROLE FATIGUE
So you’ve recognised that you have Role Fatigue. What should you do?
Imagine, for a moment, you could revive the earlier magic and passion in your career. Imagine you could get the bounce back in your stride without changing your job or company. Imagine you could take complete charge of your situation. Perhaps you are skeptical. Many people are. But it is possible to get yourself back on track. To re-ignite the passion. How?
There are three strategies to overcome Role Fatigue.
1: JOB CRAFTING
‘Job Crafting’ is a term coined by Professor Amy Wrzesniewski (Yale School of Management) and Professor Jane Dutton (University of Michigan) based on their research in 2001. Job Crafting is ‘actions that employees take to shape, mould, and redefine their jobs’. In other words, make your job personally more meaningful. Job Crafting is initiated by the employee and not by the manager.
There are three different techniques for job crafting:
Task crafting (changing tasks): this involves changing the scope of your job by adding more responsibilities.
Relational crafting (changing relationships): restructuring social interactions with others in the organization.
Cognitive crafting (changing one’s perceptions): changing the way you think of your job. Looking at the impact your job can have when looked through a different lens.
There are many benefits of Job Crafting. But for me, the biggest benefit is the sense of empowerment. Embracing Job Crafting makes you feel in charge and responsible for your job and career. It’s a great enabler for job satisfaction. And as we all know, a contented workforce drives performance and employee engagement for the organization. However, it’s important to remember, like most things, Job Crafting has to be done within the boundaries of the organization’s overall structure.
2: INTERNAL NETWORK
Gallup, in its popular employee engagement survey, ask employees to answer 12 questions. One of the questions is this: do you have a best friend at work?
The results show that close work friendships boost employee satisfaction by 50%. People with a best friend in the office are 7 times more likely to engage fully in their work.
The benefits of having an internal network include: having fun at work, getting access to new information and getting professional feedback.
Make sure your network consists of people who give you advice, who are in a postion of influence, who support you and who give you new ideas.
Your network can be split into different categories:
A: people who give you knowledge and new ideas
B: people who help you in your professional development, who give you advice and feedback
C: people who are in a position of power and influence
D: people who make the workplace fun, who boost your spirits and comfort you
Do a simple exercise. Review your internal network and see if you have support in all the different categories. If you do, you can overcome Role Fatigue. If you don’t, then there’s an issue.
Upskilling has never been more important. With the rapid changes happening in the world - and workspaces - there is a compelling need to upgrade ourselves continuously. There are technical skills you need to maintain and upgrade to stay relevant. If that’s not happening – I would highly recommend you do something about it. Enrol in courses. Internal and external. And not just industry specific skills. General skills too. It doesn’t matter if you are in HR, Learning and Development, Sales or Business Development, ‘soft business skills’ apply equally to everybody. No matter what industry you are in.
According to LinkedIn the top 5 soft skills are:
I would add two more, irrespective of your seniority and job – Public Speaking and the Art of Conversation! There is no escaping these skills.
There is a plethora of books and online courses on these topics. Pick the best suited to your availability and budget. Keep aside 1 hour a week to invest in learning and upskilling.
Invest your time and effort in brushing up these skills and apply them to your current role. It’s never too late to learn!
While organizations play a big role in providing the right environment for its employees to learn and achieve their goals, the onus is on you. You have to personally take charge of your career! Be proactive. Recreate the job you once loved - and you will continue to love it once again!
I hope you found the three strategies helpful. If you want to know more or need support in implementing them, you can reach out to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
LEADER’S BLOCK IN A NUTSHELL
We have a problem in the world. Society doesn’t allow our leaders to fail. They’re either in or out. Successes or flops. There’s no room for a dip in performance. No matter what’s behind a sudden decline.
I have identified a condition called Leader’s Block (a bit like Writer’s Block). It’s an ailment that strikes most leaders at some point in their careers. A minority of leaders can bounce back by themselves. But the majority of leaders struggle and quite often end up leaving their jobs out of exasperation and a feeling of inevitability. Which is not an ideal outcome for organizations who can’t afford to lose talent.
Leader’s Block can be caused by boredom, the transition to a new role, a clash of styles with a superior and many other seemingly innocuous issues.
And that’s where I come in. I am a Leadership Troubleshooter. I help ‘unblock’ leaders from the obstacles in their way. I work with managers, and sometimes their teams, to identify the blocks in their daily work lives, and help them find a path to get them back on track. Help them reach their full potential.
Leader’s Block: is a phase when the leader is demotivated, disengaged, uninspired and is not able to perform to the best of their abilities.