Bored at work - how to deal?
April 30, 2018 12:24 AM   Subscribe

I am pretty under-utilised in my new job and it is starting to get to me. How can I get more work to do or learn to cope?

I have been a public servant since 2010 and I have frequently found I am under-utilised.

Like, as in I literally don’t have enough tasks to keep me occupied all day, and the ones I do have are arguably below my abilities. But look I never say no to a task even when I think it is dead easy.

I have asked my supervisor for more work on several occasions when I have not had enough to do and she does give me a task but it usually only takes 10 minutes and then it’s done and I go back to reading the paper online. Everyone who walks past including my supervisor can see my screen so she knows what I’m doing if she cares to look.

I asked my manager (section boss and supervisors supervisor) for an acting role a month or so ago and he said no without really giving any reasons. So getting more responsibility through that method is out, though I could try for promotion next time a job comes up, but who knows when that will be...

I have been in this role since September 2017 so I am still pretty new. But I had this problem in a lot of my previous roles and moved jobs to try to fix it, to no avail.

My question is: how do I fix this problem of being frequently bored? Should I be asking for more work or learning to amuse myself and accepting the dull periods?
posted by EatMyHat to Work & Money (10 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I’d ask if they offer any professional development courses you can do on their dime. Might as well make yourself more employable if you’re not doing anything else. If they don’t want to pay for it, you can always do it yourself. Otherwise I used to use those spare hours to research house renovations/styling/shopping for family gifts/pretty much anything that requires a computer and time.
posted by Jubey at 12:45 AM on April 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

I have been in this situation too, here are my suggestions:

- First and best one: look around you and see what is not working well. Make that your project. When it you get it working well, use this as demonstration of your ability, and leverage for a promotion. This may or may not work - I did it at one job and they were distinctly unbothered (but gutted when I left!); at another, it worked and boosted my career a lot.

- Second best: ask to work compressed hours or part time. This could be a thorny subject depending on whether your line manager/supervisor is up for it. But if you're doing well and you know they want to keep you, try it.

- Third best: find a way to do a personal project at work. I was underutilised for a while with no way out, and I managed to undertake the release of a significant artistic project, mostly in working hours. Like, I did a LOT of stuff. No more details in case I am identifiable from this and they want their money back :) but seriously - this was not slacking. I still got my job done so well that I got a glowing annual review that year. And simultaneously felt enormously pleased that I had managed to do this other thing at the same time.
posted by greenish at 3:20 AM on April 30, 2018 [11 favorites]

Take online classes in anything even marginally connected to work. Learn PhotoShop (there are free alternatives), SharePoint, whatever interests you Gain certifications. Look at what your organization needs and where you want to go and work towards that.Become fantastic with Excel.

Are there projects you can just do? Maybe your unit would benefit from some info on password and computer security. Teach yourself, then do a presentation. Organize the supplies in the copy room. My IT office had a huge snarled mass of cables, unknown parts and misc. computer junk. Over several months, I cleaned it out, recovered what was useful, we recycled the rest. It was relaxing when I was stressed.

Pay attention to subtle cues from your manager about areas where you could lift some burdens. Maybe the office needs a database expert, maybe they need better information from existing data (hint: everybody needs better information from existing data existing data).
posted by theora55 at 6:21 AM on April 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have the same problem and it drives me nuts. I finally decided to enroll in online classes, which I can do at work, so I can move into another field in a couple of years.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 9:08 AM on April 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've gotten a fair amount of promotional and/or grant writing done for non-profit organizations I volunteer with during this kind of time. It's great because that's the sort of thing they'd really struggle to pay for, but not the sort of thing I'd like to do for free in my downtime. Knocking it out on someone else's dime when I'm already in work-mode is the perfect compromise. In my case, however, I was being paid to merely be present/available after my assigned tasks were complete, so as others have suggested, you may wish to verify that that's the case for you before diving into personal projects.
posted by teremala at 11:10 AM on April 30, 2018

I've just gone through this myself. I'm not really great at doing personal projects on company time - they tend to expand until I'm mostly goofing off and only doing the bare minimum required to keep my job, and nobody wants to be (or have) that employee.

I'm on good terms with my manager, and I basically told her I was in a long slow period and asked if there were any part of her job she might want to permanently delegate. She gave me a few projects that are arguably below BOTH our paygrades, but they do at least fill the time.
posted by invincible summer at 12:45 PM on April 30, 2018

Is the the same job that you started about 9 months ago and where you got a lackluster performance review about 4 months ago?

If so, are you absolutely sure that you're where you need to be on the learning curve? If there are other employees in your who have the same job, are they getting more or less work than you? In light of that, one of the ways you might begin to handle your boredom is having an open, honest discussion with your direct supervisor about what you're doing well, where you can improve, and what more you can offer in your current role, in that order.

If I'm a manager on the other side of an acting deployment request for a newish employee who has significant room to improve, I may be concerned about the employee's professional judgement. If there are even mild performance issues that they haven't worked on remediating, I'd think pretty poorly of them if they sought a promotion.

I'm a public servant, I understand how acting deployments work and how folks will often take a position where they're underemployed/ill-suited in hopes of climbing the ladder through acting positions and secondments. It can work, but I've also seen it backfire embarrassingly. Doing this well means that you have to be really good at the job that bores you.
posted by blerghamot at 12:47 PM on April 30, 2018 [8 favorites]

@blerghamot yes it is that same job. I’ve learned that my supervisor is quite a perfectionist who gets quite bitchy when I make even the slightest mistake. Because of that attitude I’m reluctant to ask her what I could do better cos I don’t think I’ll get a fair evaluation.
posted by EatMyHat at 3:19 PM on April 30, 2018

I get that you're reluctant to open a Pandora's Box with your manager. I mean this as gently as possible, having been on both sides of this equation:

(a) Even really awful managers are often like stopped clocks;

(b) You've said as much that you have a history of boredom on the job, which TBH may lend some credence to the stopped clock bit;

(d) If your supervisor is someone you'd describe as bitchy or a perfectionist, the best to way to build rapport with her is to create opportunities where you appear to be particularly open to learning from her while taking responsibility for growing into your position.
posted by blerghamot at 8:31 PM on April 30, 2018 [4 favorites]

Came in to make the same point as blerghamot. You don't even have to approach your supervisors for starts, they've already given you a whole list of things you could be working on! Pick one, nail it, then let your supervisor know. Lather, rinse, repeat. She'll probably be a lot less bitchy if you seem like you're actually taking her feedback into consideration.
posted by yeahlikethat at 4:57 AM on May 1, 2018

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