Burned Out or Bored Out?

Are you burned out or bored out? There’s a difference!

Initially, the feelings might be similar: lack of energy, feeling disconnected at work, upset, frustrated, and possibly angry.

The difference: in burnout, you are inundated with too much to do and too little time. You can never get caught up, and so take work home at night and on the weekends. You are anxious, stressed, and can find no way to turn off the volume of tasks coming at you. Quitting seems the only answer, but you don’t have an alternative job at hand.

In bored out, you are under-used. You can easily finish tasks but there’s nothing that brings you satisfaction, a sense of accomplishment and joy. Yes, downright joy. Like the first scenario, you too want to quit but have no alternative.

In both cases, the simple but perhaps the hardest thing to do is: TALK!  Not complaining talk, but rather a conversation with the appropriate manager. The summation of both conversations is to use data, facts, and specifically state what you want. First, do your homework. In burned out, identify tasks which seem to have little value, take your time from what would be more beneficial to the organization, or require some training which you have not (as yet) received.

In bored out, identify what skill you have that is not used (or under-used) and how that skill could be put to a greater benefit for the organization. Be ready to explain how your enthusiasm for the job would be increased if you could do work that interests you and from which you could also grow and learn. You might be good at something but it holds no interest for you, hence boredom. Example: I am good at writing press release. However, I have no interest in writing press releases. I can do it, but I do NOT want to do it.

This conversation cannot be done on email. If at all possible, make it face to face—even if it’s done on a video conference call like Zoom. In both cases, this is the order of the conversation:

Describe exactly what you are currently doing and how much time it takes. (If you are burned out, my guess is that your manager has no idea how long something takes.) 

Express how you feel about this work. You might be exhausted, overwhelmed, anxious, angry. If bored, you might be unfulfilled, unchallenged, and irritated.

Specify exactly what you’d like to do. It might be to arrange for a longer conversation. It might be to explore alternatives to the workload with one or two colleagues. It might be to ask to shadow a senior manager and learn their job. It might be to add something to your work that taps into your skill.

Example: in one of my sessions, a woman worked as an assistant to a senior executive. She was good at it, but bored. What she really wanted to do was to write. I asked if she could still do her work as an admin AND find a writing project for the company.  She pitched an idea that she could write a small newsletter that profiled various employees and clients who used the company’s products. I found out later that not only did her manager agree, but by the following year, she was writing full-time for the company and another admin had been hired.

Consequence. Explain will happen as a result of getting what you are asking for: more excited about the organization, more productive, happier, eager to perform, etc.

This form of scripting is intended to open up the necessary avenues for moving away from feeling burned out or bored out. Caveat: think carefully about what you are asking. Write out the conversation if necessary. Practice with a trusted colleague. Be courageous.

If you don’t state what is going on and offer positive ways to move forward, it’s impossible for anything to change. Managers are not mind-readers. I firmly believe that if you don’t ask, you can’t get.

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