What’s worse for your career: boredom or stress?

Would you rather feel ho-hum or completely overloaded in the office? While neither state is ideal, boredom and stress create different types of problems for employees.

Boredom at work isn’t just boring for sufferers — it also leads to larger issues at work that affect entire teams and companies. Studies have shown that feeling bored can lead to disengagement, sabotage, withdrawal, abuse of other team members and intentional failure — all of which can result in decreased productivity. Chronic workplace stress can lead to serious physical and emotional health problems, including heart disease and depression.

Both boredom and stress affect huge numbers of employees. A 2015 Gallup study showed that nearly 70 percent of U.S. employees report being bored or disengaged at work, while a survey by Everest College found that 83 percent of Americans are stressed out by at least one thing in their workplace.

But which is worse for your career? An informal polling of career experts reveals that more believe boredom tops stress in terms of the most damage you can suffer as an employee. “I firmly believe boredom is worse for employees than stress,” says Elle Kaplan, CEO and founder of LexION Capital. “While you don’t want your office to become the next Amazon, some levels of stress are good for a business.”

“Boredom is far worse for the employee than good stress,” says Aoife Quinn, founder of Quinn HR Consulting Group. “In over 25 years of dealing with employees in corporations, I found that employees who are bored are unhappy and lack energy. Those who are bored may well seek other employment opportunities.”

But plenty of those interviewed point to stress as an employee’s more frequent companion in today’s workplace. A new management survey by Wrike, a work management and collaboration platform, found that working on too many things at once is the top roadblock to productivity. “In this digital age of information, there’s very little time for workers to be bored,” says Andrew Filev, CEO of Wrike. “We are now in the age of overstimulation. It’s easy to be overwhelmed with emails, tasks, messages and nonstop requests as work expands exponentially. There seem to be only two choices: Either you are managing work, or work is managing you.”

Many of those polled believe that it’s not so simple to choose a single culprit when comparing stress to boredom, suggesting that individual circumstances are important in determining your personal tolerance level for these troublesome states.

Since it’s possible to experience boredom during certain periods while getting stressed out at other times, it helps to have strategies to combat whichever comes your way. Here are some tips on how to bring yourself back to equilibrium:

Break it up; Speed it up. When your workload feels never-ending, it can quickly lead to stress. Carolyn Betts, founder and CEO of Betts Recruiting, explains that her organization combats stress by having employees create daily plans for exactly what they want to accomplish, broken into 15-minute increments. “This simple process lets employees prioritize their time, so at the end of the day, they end up feeling satisfied with their performance rather than burdened by trying to meet unrealistic goals they can never deliver,” she says.

Scott Crabtree, chief happiness officer at Happy Brain Science, agrees that breaking your challenge into smaller, more achievable segments and focusing only on the piece in front of you is a smart strategy for the over-stressed, but he notes that boredom requires a different strategy. “If bored, turn it into a game: How fast can you do this boring task?” he suggests. “Can you do it with less errors than last time?

Go deeper. Workplace boredom and stress are not necessarily separate issues, according to Jim Craft, professor of business administration at the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Graduate School of Business. “Stress comes about when a person experiences a problematic situation. Being bored on the job is a problematic situation, and this can lead to stress,” he says. To avoid these unpleasant states, Craft recommends creating your own tasks that go deeper than your job description or extend what is required from your basic duties.

Practice task matching. Psychologist Sari Shepphird explains that both boredom and stress interfere with job success. “If a task challenge outweighs someone’s skill, anxiety results, and performance declines,” she says. “If skill outweighs the challenge, apathy results, and performance declines. The key is to match the type of task and the level of intensity for that task.” To do this, Shepphird says that for tasks with less pressure, you can set goals that increase your interest (such as seeing beyond the daily grind for a long-term goal). For tasks with more pressure, you can use techniques such as relaxation and goal setting to optimize success.

Try to change it. Whether you’re struggling with boredom or stress, it can be easy to feel stuck. Boredom creates a sense of apathy that may make you hesitate to take action to solve the problem. Extreme stress makes you feel overwhelmed, which makes pausing to address the condition seem like one more thing to do. But taking initiative to make changes is important to break the cycle. “One of the most important things an employee can do in managing boredom or stress is be proactive,” says Val Matta, vice president of business development at CareerShift. “If you’re feeling underwhelmed by your job, ask your superior for more responsibilities. When it comes to stress, know when to ask for help, be it from co-workers or your support network at home. This isn’t a sign of weakness; It’s using tools at your disposal to do a good job.”

A possible positive outcome of practicing these strategies is the chance to enter the zone of ideal challenge that psychologists call “flow.” Here’s how Crabtree describes it: “When you are just at the edge of your ability (not bored, not too stressed), you enter a state of mind that is extremely productive and fulfilling.”

Robin Madell has spent over two decades as a corporate writer, journalist, and communications consultant on business, leadership and career issues. She serves as a copywriter, speechwriter and ghostwriter for executives and entrepreneurs across diverse industries, including finance, technology, healthcare, law, real estate, advertising and marketing. Robin has interviewed over 1,000 thought leaders around the globe and has won 20 awards for editorial excellence. She has served on the Board of Directors of the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association in both New York and San Francisco, and contributed to the book “Be Your Own Mentor: Strategies from Top Women on the Secrets of Success,” published by Random House. Robin is also the author of “Surviving Your Thirties: Americans Talk About Life After 30” and co-author of “The Strong Principles: Career Success.” Connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter: @robinmadell.

More from U.S. News

The 100 Best Jobs of 2015

Relaxation Exercises for When You’re About to Lose It at Work

8 Ways to Beat the Mid-Afternoon Slump

What’s Worse for Your Career: Boredom or Stress? originally appeared on usnews.com

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up