Dragging yourself into work every day, doing the same tasks in the same way with the same people over and over again, can make you feel like Bill Murray’s character in the movie Groundhog Day: after a while, you know exactly what’s going to go down, and who will say what, before it even happens.
If so, you've got lots of company. When career site Comparably surveyed almost 21,000 U.S. employees in the past 12 months to ask what stressed them out the most about their jobs, some of the answers were predictable: aggravating commutes, long hours, difficult coworkers, and bad bosses.
But the biggest cause of stress was one you might not expect: 51% of men, and 35% of women, said they worry most about "becoming stagnant" in their careers. Even people in corner offices aren't immune. Almost two-thirds of senior executives believe they're in a rut, which the report notes "makes sense when you've reached the top and further progress becomes increasingly difficult."
Especially in this job market, with opportunities thick on the ground, why not just get another job and start fresh somewhere else? "Looking for a new job takes a lot of energy," says Jason Nazar, CEO and cofounder of Comparably. "Lots of people are feeling too burnt out to make the effort." In that case, he adds, "you're probably not bringing your best work, or your best self, to your job lately —so feeling stuck and 'stagnant' isn't doing your employer any favors, either."
So what can you do about it? Nazar suggests trying these four steps to getting re-energized and charged up about work:
1. Talk to your boss. Part of any manager's job is developing talent, so don't be shy about bringing up the topic of your future with the person you report to —even, or especially, if that's the CEO. "Ask for different opportunities outside the normal scope of your job," Nazar suggests. "Collaborate with your boss to make a plan for what you're going to do next. Most bosses now would be receptive to the idea of finding you a fresh challenge if it's in line with the company's goals." Your natural inclination to start this conversation, Nazar observes, may depend partly on how old you are. "It's a little scary to admit you're feeling restless in mid-career, especially if what you'd really like to do next will require more resources," he says. "Millennials and Gen Z tend to be more comfortable asking for stuff." At any age, ask anyway.
2. Cultivate the right friendships at work. Nazar's not talking about the kind of self-interested what-can-you-do-for-me gladhanding that often gives networking a bad name. He points out that people who are disenchanted with their jobs tend to gravitate toward coworkers who are too, which just reinforces feelings of boredom and stagnation. "Attitude is contagious," Nazar says. "So try to connect and socialize more with people you know at work who are upbeat and positive. Besides being more fun, it will change your whole outlook on the day-to-day."
3. Invest one hour a day in learning a new skill. As people live longer, with fewer defined-benefit pensions and a wobbly outlook for Social Security, careers are getting longer. "Unless you're right on the edge of retirement, you probably have a long way to go in your working life," Nazar notes. And, as technology advances at warp speed, the last thing you need is to get left behind while you're still in the workforce. "The need for lifelong learning is real," says Nazar. "Keep your skills current, because you can't afford not to." Learning something new —ideally something related to the goals you and your boss have set— is the antidote to obsolescence. It's also a time-tested cure for boredom.
4. Know when to quit. Suppose you do all of the above and you're still stuck. "Take an honest look at whether your employer is willing to give you interesting new opportunities and move you forward," says Nazar. "Is the company investing in your growth?" More and more employers are trying to build cultures that encourage and develop talent and, even if the idea of a job search strikes you as exhausting, you'd be smart to start looking around for them. As Nazar puts it, "if you really believe you'll never get anywhere at your current job no matter what you do, then you may really be in the wrong place."
One note of caution: If you do decide to change jobs, think hard about how you'll avoid getting into a similar rut in your next one. "It's important to get very clear in your own mind about what drives you, and what success looks like to you," says Kathleen Pai, vice president of human resources at Ultimate Software. The company, at #8 on Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work For, claims a 94% employee-retention rate —extraordinary in an industry known for its high turnover. The main reason, Pai says, is that Ultimate trains its managers to coach employees on creating career paths, both upward and lateral, that emphasize constant learning —and minimal, if any, stagnation. "Lots of companies say they're doing this," Pai says. "But often, they're not."
Too true. Before signing on for a new job that could turn out the same as your old one (or worse), check sites like Glassdoor, Comparably, and Vault, and ask around on LinkedIn, to get past and current employees' take on whether the outfit you're thinking of joining really walks the talk.
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