How do I start taking my job seriously again?
August 7, 2013 6:09 AM   Subscribe

The job that I used to love has become dreadfully slow and boring because many of our projects have been cancelled or postponed due to the economy. I'm losing interest fast and starting to perform badly and not feel guilty about it. How can I change my attitude?

I've been working in my industry - a niche technical field - for about seven years. In good times, I really love my job. I find it incredibly stimulating and I get a lot of satisfaction out of being good at what I do. It doesn't hurt that it pays well, too. However, we're currently in "bad times" and have been for nearly the entire time I've been working at this particular company (3+ years).

When I started here, I was enthusiastic and motivated. I would normally describe myself as an efficient, conscientious, organized and motivated employee who frequently went above and beyond the call of duty. I've worked on some very large interesting projects since being here, and I really loved those and loved the amount of autonomy I had on those jobs. The problem is, though, that because of the economy, a lot of our main projects were cancelled or postponed, which led to multiple 3-4 month stretches of having absolutely nothing to do.

For the first few weeks, I read technical specifications, tried to become familiar with all of our company standards, and all the kind of busy productive stuff people tend to suggest you should do when you're waiting for real work to come your way. But at a certain point, I kind of ran out of busy stuff to do, and my boss told me directly "I don't mind if you surf the net". So began all the interneting and going for walks, going shopping, etc.

I survived four rounds of layoffs, and now I'm the only person in my job description left in my department. On top of that, I've been getting steady raises (12% this year!), yearly bonuses and constant positive feedback. I mean, barely producing makes me feel a crazy and depressed slacker, and getting consistent positive reinforcement for it makes me feel like there's absolutely nothing I can do to taint this undeserved "star employee" opinion that everyone has of me. Now, when I do have actually work to do, it's not only become impossible to concentrate but I actually really don't give a shit about how good of a job I do, or if it even gets done, because I'm so unmotivated.

Being the last person in my job description makes me feel like they can't afford to lay me off because then there will be no one left to do my job (in the 3+ years I've been here, they have been looking to hire some people for the same role as me or junior versions of my role, but have not been able to find anyone). I respect my job less, I respect my coworkers less for thinking that of me and I just... well, I guess I feel kind of invincible in terms of job security and I feel like a fraud... this can't be healthy.

Of course, I'm NOT invincible, and it's incredibly foolish for me to act as if I am. But my brain is now functioning as though that's the ultimate truth and I can't seem to change my outlook. My industry is suffering right now (I've been job hunting with no success), and I think that if I were feeling this way while the industry was booming, it would be a sure sign that I needed to move on to greener pastures. But there are no jobs.

I'm currently on a project, but I've been doing work that is not in my job description and is way, wayyy easier than what I can actually do. It's not that I feel like the work is beneath me, it's just that I'm incredibly, mind-blowing bored and each morning I wake up dreading the idea of sitting at my desk and dragging myself through another day of total drudgery. I'm starting to make careless mistakes because I just don't care. when I come home from work, I'm more exhausted from doing nothing all day than if I had had a productive day. I haven't learned anything in ages! (It doesn't help that the person I'm working for at the moment is a total tyrant... but that's another story)

I want to be in a dynamic work environment with motivated people who will call you out on your mistakes! I'm sad because I LOVE my industry. I'm depressed because I feel unproductive and unmotivated. I'm embarrassed to have so much of my personal well-being tied to how productive I feel at my job. I'm scared because one of these days, someone will realize how much of a slacker I've been lately and I'll be screwed. I'm ashamed that I'm sabotaging something that I should be incredibly grateful to have: a steady, well-paying job.

So... I need this. I try to remind myself that I just need to stick it out a little bit longer 'til I can find a new job. Until then, though, I really need to change my attitude. But how?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (9 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
I work in a position where I have short, intense projects interspersed with lulls that can go on for days or weeks. I use the spare time to teach myself things, effectively adding bullets to my resume. I can't tell what industry you're in, but I do a ton of online tutorials and a lot of them are relevant (I can get sucked into the photoshop ones for hours!). It's a way to feel productive, like I am front-loading skills for future work.
posted by mochapickle at 6:39 AM on August 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Volunteer on the side using the skills you value using. You can possibly find listings of groups that could use your help on idealist.org.

If you can't find a group who can use your skills, find a local hackerspace http://hackerspaces.org//wiki/List_of_Hacker_Spaces and see if you can start giving classes in what you most love to do.
New opportunities may come your way as a result of reaching out, and your self-esteem will benefit too.

You may also wish to look for a career counselor: http://ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sp/consumer_find

You may also want to see a mental health counselor, as being in a situation this demoralizing for a long time can lead to depression, which will make it harder to get out. This happens to lots of people, so you don't need to feel weird about it. One place to find a therapist is: http://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/
posted by mijn_valieske at 6:39 AM on August 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Can you devote some of your free time to gaining a better understanding of your industry, the challenges it faces and how it might be adapting to them? Three years of minimal productivity is a lot to simply write off as "bad times." Does management seem to be waiting for things to go back to 'the way they were "before?' Are they winding down a company that they've given up on? Are your competitors contracting similarly? Is the work you used to do being taken over by software, or robots, or cheap foreign labor?

I don't know what you do, and probably know next to nothing about your industry anyhow. But it sounds to me like there are parallels to things I do understand and know about, and something I'd suggest you keep in mind is that even if you are irreplaceable at this company, that doesn't mean your position is safe. Your company could decide that it no longer makes sense to be involved in the part of the work that you do, or it could go out of business entirely. But if that's the way that things are headed, then caring more about this position, or making fewer mistakes, won't help you. I think the best thing you can do is put more energy into looking for a position in which you can actually feel useful. It's not this job that you need to respect more; it's yourself.
posted by jon1270 at 6:40 AM on August 7, 2013


Can you spend time studying for a certification? Taking online classes? Learning a new language? Working on open source projects to keep your skills and industry knowledge fresh?

Think of your down time as personal and professional development time--your company can be essentially paying you to develop your skill-set. What a blessing.
posted by Kimberly at 6:45 AM on August 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have a similar situation. I'm comfortable, but casually looking for a better gig. Not because I'm unhappy where I am, mostly because if I can make more money, that would be better.

It reminds me of the old joke. A guy brings his car into a mechanic. "The car is making this gawdawful knocking sound." The mechanic listens to the engine for a minute, gets a hammer and whacks the engine block. The sound goes away. The mechanic tells the guy, "That'll be $100." The guy looks at him and says, "What the hell buddy? You just hit it with a hammer?" The mechanic says, "Let me itemize that for you." He comes back with an invoice that says: Hitting engine with hammer--$2. Knowing where to hit--$98.

We have reached that point in our careers where we're so awesome that we can do our jobs with a minimum of effort. We're just that good.

We don't have to slave away to do simple stuff, we do it instinctively. I'm proud of this fact.

Things I do to keep my sanity while I sit here at my desk? Answer AskMeFi inquiries. Participate in my software's user community. Do trainings for others in my workgroup. Wander around the office to chit chat with my co-workers. Take long lunches.

My company likes that I'm efficient. That way, if there's a crush of stuff that needs doing, I'm available. I can pitch in to help in other positions if need be. Random people from all over the company call me to ask questions about Excel or Salesforce.com.

I have very little job stress.

Write a novel, learn new software, document procedures, etc.

I don't feel a bit guilty and yeah, I should get more money.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:47 AM on August 7, 2013 [12 favorites]


I tend to be in boom-or-bust cycles myself. One thing I use to focus myself is to listen to Pandora when I need to get something done. I have a fairly decent techno station, and I only listen to it when it's time to get to work. I've basically trained myself (in a Pavlovian way) that listening to Pandora = focus. You can do something similar, whether it be with music or putting in earplugs or moving to a quiet area in the office. If you do the same thing every time, you train your brain into recognizing work time. Now, whenever I put on my headphones, my brain (which tends to wander around at the best of times) focuses almost immediately.
posted by RogueTech at 6:53 AM on August 7, 2013


Comments inline...

I've been working in my industry - a niche technical field - for about seven years. In good times, I really love my job. I find it incredibly stimulating and I get a lot of satisfaction out of being

There's probably a natural break at seven years anyway, regardless of the economy. What I read is that your real question seems to be if it's time to make a move, or not. On one hand, you've reached a stable point in your career that is comfortable. On the other hand, you miss being challenged and growing. You're not sure which is more important to you. I would caution that perhaps you don't need to change your attitude, but rather listen to what it is telling you.

good at what I do. It doesn't hurt that it pays well, too. However, we're currently in "bad times" and have been for nearly the entire time I've been working at this particular company (3+ years).

The economy has largely 'recovered' – well, as much as it is going today. I encourage people to think of this as the new normal, rather than some odd disconnect. The fear from 9/11 has never gone away because a world where America is threatened is a very real world. Similarly, whilst the financial crisis was a disconnect, things are not going to go back to the way they were before, because things are different now. Thus, I would discourage you from using "bad times" as a justification for anything. You have all of the information you need to make decisions. How things are today is how they are going to be, yeah?

When I started here, I was enthusiastic and motivated. I would normally describe myself as an efficient, conscientious, organized and motivated employee who frequently went above and beyond the call of duty. I've worked on some very large interesting projects since being here, and I really loved those and loved the amount of autonomy I had on those jobs. The problem is, though, that because of the economy, a lot of our main projects were cancelled or postponed, which led to multiple 3-4 month stretches of having absolutely nothing to do.

I would like you to entertain the idea that your company needs you to be available, even if you are not utilised. Given the points below, about the cutbacks and also the trouble hiring, you are in a role that is necessary, but also in an area that is slow at the moment. Many of us are wired to believe that companies want us to always be delivering value. And that is often the case, however, in this case, the value you are delivering is being available.

It reminds me of an engineer that I met at an internship. He was exceptionally reliable and dependable, and was easily the longest serving member of the company. He rarely came into the office, unless he was called in. Then he seemed to spend a few weeks working with whatever team was readying a new product. Then he would disappear again. He was an electrical engineer (I think) and he was exceptional and knowing all of the regulations that needed to be met to ship. He received his regular paychecks. He was given positive performance reviews. He received promotions and all that. But he was rarely around, because he had developed such a specific skill-set that was very very very valuable... on occasion. It would't have made any sense to fire him, so I guess they just let it roll. I always thought it was good work if you could get it.

For the first few weeks, I read technical specifications, tried to become familiar with all of our company standards, and all the kind of busy productive stuff people tend to suggest you should do when you're waiting for real work to come your way. But at a certain point, I kind of ran out of busy stuff to do, and my boss told me directly "I don't mind if you surf the net". So began all the interneting and going for walks, going shopping, etc.

I don't think this has much to do with your boss or company's expectations, as you've been given the green light. You just don't sound like you are peace with idleness.

I survived four rounds of layoffs, and now I'm the only person in my job description left in my department. On top of that, I've been getting steady raises (12% this year!), yearly bonuses and constant positive feedback. I mean, barely producing makes me feel a crazy and depressed slacker, and getting consistent positive reinforcement for it makes me feel like there's absolutely nothing I can do to taint this undeserved "star employee" opinion that everyone has of me. Now, when I do have actually work to do, it's not only become impossible to concentrate but I actually really don't give a shit about how good of a job I do, or if it even gets done, because I'm so unmotivated.

I think most of the latter part is generally untrue. You would probably do fine. I would say the bigger concern is skills atrophy. It may bother you that there's not even proper measurement, that in essence you are being socially promoted. Thus, are you really good at what you do? Or are you just being placated so that they can keep you around.

Being the last person in my job description makes me feel like they can't afford to lay me off because then there will be no one left to do my job (in the 3+ years I've been here, they have been looking to hire some people for the same role as me or junior versions of my role, but have not been able to find anyone). I respect my job less, I respect my coworkers less for thinking that of me and I just... well, I guess I feel kind of invincible in terms of job security and I feel like a fraud... this can't be healthy.

It's probably not healthy, but I doubt it's unique. Lots of people end up in these type of roles for a variety of reasons. The reality is that you are not okay with it, and that is probably what needs to be addressed.

Of course, I'm NOT invincible, and it's incredibly foolish for me to act as if I am. But my brain is now functioning as though that's the ultimate truth and I can't seem to change my outlook. My industry is suffering right now (I've been job hunting with no success), and I think that if I were feeling this way while the industry was booming, it would be a sure sign that I needed to move on to greener pastures. But there are no jobs.

I wonder if the real crux of the problem is not that you're in a slow job at the moment, but rather you are witnesses the potential decline of your career. These are very different things. This makes it sound to me as if you are trapped, and don't have anywhere to go. Thus the problem becomes not that you are bored, but that you are afraid. Hence, you are clinging onto the job because it's a steady paycheck and a safe place to be, but at the same time, you seem to be worried that there's nowhere else to go. How you change that attitude, I don't quite know because you need to be really clear about what your problem is.

If you are in a dead-end job, perhaps use this time to build a different skill set. Either internally at the company, or on your own time as fits. In fact, it makes more sense now because the response you have to the praise and promotion is one of spite, which is not what boredom would result in. Boredom doesn't really lead to spite as much as it leads to ambivalence. The fact that there is spite seems to indicate anger, which would probably signal fear.

I'm currently on a project, but I've been doing work that is not in my job description and is way, wayyy easier than what I can actually do. It's not that I feel like the work is beneath me, it's just that I'm incredibly, mind-blowing bored and each morning I wake up dreading the idea of sitting at my desk and dragging myself through another day of total drudgery. I'm starting to make careless mistakes because I just don't care. when I come home from work, I'm more exhausted from doing nothing all day than if I had had a productive day. I haven't learned anything in ages! (It doesn't help that the person I'm working for at the moment is a total tyrant... but that's another story)

What I hear is that you have trapped yourself in the expectation that this job is a requirement for you to be secure. You're doing work beneath you, the department has disappeared, you're not learning, and there aren't any other roles to go to. As mentioned, I would hope you can see your attitude as something important to listen to, rather than change.

I want to be in a dynamic work environment with motivated people who will call you out on your mistakes! I'm sad because I LOVE my industry. I'm depressed because I feel unproductive and unmotivated. I'm embarrassed to have so much of my personal well-being tied to how productive I feel at my job. I'm scared because one of these days, someone will realize how much of a slacker I've been lately and I'll be screwed. I'm ashamed that I'm sabotaging something that I should be incredibly grateful to have: a steady, well-paying job.

Many people are connect their identity with productivity. That is not uncommon. But now you have added how much you love your industry. So you love it, and you really like what you are doing and feeling a mastery of it, but then it's slow and seemingly in decline (at the moment). That's a tricky situation because now it seems like your experiencing a bit of fear and nostalgia. You want the industry to be vibrant and exciting and interesting like it was, but it's not and so you are holding on to a good job that is fulfilling your financial needs, but not your intellectual, emotional, and spiritual needs.

You shouldn't be ashamed of how you feel. Perhaps you are thinking about this as an either/or proposition. Either you stay in this job, or you find one that is exciting. Either you stick around and stay comfortable, or you leave into the great unknown at a time when you know another job is going to be hard to find. I would say it is both. You love the industry, you've had a great ride at this company, and it's time to move on. Either into another industry, or into another company. There's nothing to be embarrassed about or too much worry for you to have. You haven't done anything wrong, and you certainly didn't cause this. It would probably help if you are very clear on where this job is meeting your needs, and where it is not meeting your needs, and then start making real decisions for yourself, rather than operating from a place where you feel like you are successfully hiding from what you seem to think is inevitable.

So... I need this. I try to remind myself that I just need to stick it out a little bit longer 'til I can find a new job. Until then, though, I really need to change my attitude. But how?

If you want to change your attitude, you need different experiences. Attitudes are formed reactively as a response to experiences. In your case, being idle has been the experience, and it's resulted in the attitude you are trying to now change. If you want to change your attitude, therefore you have to change your experiences, which means you have to change your actions, and therefore your decisions.

These may be large decisions or very small decisions, but as you start making different decisions about how to conduct your life and how you spend your time, you will start to generate different experiences, which will then shift what your attitudes are.

If you want to stay within the company, maybe you can spend a day or two a week working with someone else in a different area. It doesn't have to be super high-value work, it can be work that you do just to help out the company. Maybe the attitude that results is you decide to be valuable to the company, regardless of your role.

Or if you don't want to stay at the company, but in the field, perhaps you start chasing down the next role through concerted effort, rather than just looking for jobs. Start networking and contributing to online forums, raise your profile. Maybe the attitude that results is that you decide you love your industry and role, and you want the best possible one there is out there, and so you will go find it.
posted by nickrussell at 7:33 AM on August 7, 2013 [9 favorites]


I've been in a similar situation -- it sounds great to get paid for doing nothing, but if you're someone who needs to find meaning in your work, it sucks. Nickrussell's comment is great, and it was also my experience that breaking out of the funk required me to take action. Think about where you want to be and how you can make it happen. Use all the free time you have to make it happen -- write articles, make business contacts, whatever. There must be something you can do, inside or outside of the company, that is going to provide value to someone and meaning to you.
posted by chickenmagazine at 9:34 AM on August 7, 2013


You say you love your industry, but things are slow at your company. Could your industry be in decline in general? Are you something like a master craftsman of the finest buggy whips? People don't really need buggy whips anymore. Are you in the 8-track tape industry? Take a cold hard look at where your industry is headed. It might be time to jump ship into an entirely new career field. Changing your line of work or the industry in which you work would be terrifying, but it would give you the challenge that you seem to crave.
posted by double block and bleed at 3:04 AM on September 13, 2013


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