How to deal with a boring job

Reader question:

My job is driving me crazy!  I work in tech support, so I’m mostly getting paid to be there if there are any problems that come up.  This means many days I’m just sitting there dinking around on the internet for 2 or 3 hours at a time.  This might be a dream job for some people, but I feel like I’m losing my skills. I’d look for another job, but I think my place is pretty secure here and I don’t want to risk going somewhere else only to get let go in a bad economy.  Do you have any suggestions for me?

Brad

Those are some good questions.  I’ve previously talked about figuring out your work zone to help decide when it is time to leave a company and find employment elsewhere.  Ideally you want to be in the upper green zone or a bit in the yellow.  When you get over into the red you are getting stagnant. Brad sounds like he is definitely in the red zone or worse.  In fact Brad sounds like he may be in a position further to the right where the curve actually starts heading back down.

Normally I’d say it is probably time for Brad to look for a new job, but I understand his concern about the economy.  Before he leaves, it might be a good idea see if he can do anything to improve his current situation.  Perhaps there are some new areas that the company wants to get into, but doesn’t feel like they can afford another employee.  Maybe he can take on some new projects that are important, but have been put on the back burner.

Asking for more responsibility

When I was in college I took a summer job at a hospital where they needed someone to unbox computers and set them up.  It was pretty simple stuff and I was in a position where computers weren’t coming in all the time.  So I’d listen and see what types of problems people were having and then say, “I might be able to fix that, do you mind if I try?”  The executives were having a very difficult time connecting to the computer system from home because the modems would always lock up.  I asked if I could use an old computer to come up with a better solution and ended up creating a dial in system that solved the problem.  This kept me doing interesting things and also let me learn about stuff that went well beyond what I was hired to do.

Brad may be able to find things like this even outside of the area he is working in.  The trick is to find something that is being ignored right now so it can be done in his spare time.  Here are a couple ideas:

  • Social media – lots of companies are interested in creating a Twitter account or Facebook page, but don’t think they have anyone to man it.
  • Company intranet – Setting up a system to share information internally could be very helpful and is something that could easily be done during Brad’s downtime.
  • Company webpage – Lots of companies have websites that are out of date.  If this is the case at Brad’s company he could volunteer to learn how to update it and start working on that during his spare time.

Asking for more education

Check the employee manual.  If they have a defined educational plan, Brad may be able to take some college course or other type of training while at work and while having the company pay for it.  There are lots of different online training companies that offer programs that would fit well into his periods of downtime.

The education could be classes related to his job, classes toward a degree in his field or training toward an industry certification.

Self education

Even if the company isn’t going to pay for it, Brad may be able to get additional training simply by spending his downtime learning about things related to his job to make him more skilled.  If he ever does leave the company this may help him get a better position in the future.  He can buy a technical book or use web tutorials to teach himself all kinds of things during his downtime.

Formal education

Even if the company isn’t willing to pay for it, Brad may want to look at taking online classes and paying for them out of his own pocket.  If his supervisor will let him use his downtime to study, this will basically mean he is getting paid to take classes–even if he has to pay for the tuition himself.  There are all kinds of online degree programs that he could use to increase his skill or get a bachelors or even master’s degree.

If he can show that what he is studying is going to help him with his job, most employers are going to be happy for him to spend his free time working toward bettering his skills instead of playing solitaire or minesweeper.

Productive time

The important thing for Brad is to make sure he doesn’t get lazy.  Instead of seeing a boring job as something bad, he needs to transform it into an opportunity to grow and learn and make his time at the company productive.  If he can’t find a way to do this, then I would suggest starting to apply to other jobs–even though there may be some risk. Over the course of Brad’s career, the risk of becoming out dated by not having any new challenges is probably greater than the risk of getting let go and needing to find another job.

Comments

  1. says

    Hi Mark. Good 2011 to you.

    Your “learning new things” vs. “time” plot there sure says a lot about how any endeavor progresses. The first part is the most difficult as we are out of touch with what we need to be doing, and then we get into the period where we are not so bad, and then we are at the point where things out of our ability are in the miniscule minority.

    “The risk of becoming outdated by not having any new challenges” sure is a scary one. The person who takes on few new challenges starts to get real worried that they are losing touch with society.

  2. says

    In someways I think having a job with so much time on your hands and access to the Internet would be ideal. You could use the quiet times to study up on your field or even study something new. I quit a job recently after only three days because most of my quiet time had to be spent standing around waiting for customers. If I had access to the Internet, I could have stuck it out because I could have been learning and still getting paid for it. :)

  3. says

    Wow!

    I just spent the last 6 or so hours thinking around this subject see “http://boykie.ath.cx/content/2011/01/03/you-wanna-look-new-job-recession”. After tinkering around and getting back, your post was the first on my reader list, how uncanny (unless they’ve now found a way to prioritise rss feeds according to current focus!).

    The advice you dished out fits me to a T (save that I didn’t really think it was a boring job and instead of asking for more responsibility, I took more responsibility) but went through all the processes you mentioned.

    I really like the graph and though not wholly practical (everyone is different with different factors), it would be interesting to see the actual timescales!

    All in all, very nice post (especially linked with the work zone post!)

  4. says

    Self-education and productive time were the 2 keys for me to survive time spent at my previous job. If you learn the industry and find ways to improve your job, you will continue to build your value. The key to any job is building your value to the point where you are indispensable. Things won’t be so boring when they NEED you on a daily basis! :)

    • says

      I think being indispensable at work is linked to the “curse of competence”. When people see you for the amazingly helpful and skillful person that you are, it’s easy to say yes and get bogged down with their work too. Learning to say no has been the best thing for my career and I’ve been able to develop in my down-time by learning the industry and studying for a Masters Degree.

      Like you Dan, I also think that self-education is essential.

      Role enrichment is a great way to learn new things at your boring job. Getting involved and as Mark says, suggest to your higher management how they could get added value from enriching your role with Project ‘X’.

      Another great article Mark.
      I only discovered your site today and it is riveting!

      Best regards,
      Iain.
      @ibsimpson

  5. says

    Excellent advice. The most common reasons emmployees leave their jobs are because of a bad boss or because there are no new learning opportunities. When the economy is bad, sometimes it is better to stick it out for as long as you can. In the meantime, look for ways to learn new things or expand your responsibilities in your current job. These will position you well for when it is time to move on to your next job. Try to make as many contacts as possible, too.

  6. Doug B says

    IMO the problem is ‘wage jobs’. Our country is going to implode – I’d say within the next 5 years. I was happily self employed (writing / selling) my own software. But big business, big government and the current economic depression killed my business.

    Now I’m a wage slave. It’s truely amazing how little gets done in their corporate enviornment. These jobs kill your creativity and soul. There’s nothing good about them execpt they allow you continue to be a debt slave in order to maintain the status quo.

    And no, I’m not a socialist, not a liberal, but rather a conserative.

    • lynna says

      It’s not practical for everyone to be self employed and somebody has to work in the corporations, right? Wage jobs give people some modicum of security that you don’t have as a freelancer or even an entrepreneur. Don’t most new businesses fail within the first year?

      • says

        Are you sure? It wasn’t that long ago that pretty much everyone was self-employed.

        I’m not really sure what you mean by security. Working as an employee where you can be fired at any time based on decisions far up the corporate chain doesn’t seem very secure. But maybe that is just me.

        The barriers for running your own business keep moving lower. Not everyone can do it, but it is certainly within the reach of any motivated talented person.

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