Bored at Work? Discover Your Personal Motivation

“Ennui:  a feeling of weariness and dissatisfaction :  boredom” — Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Why do people get bored at work?

“That,” as William Shakespeare pointed out, “is the question!”  We may have a job with a satisfactory income; a good commute, where we never get stuck in traffic; we’re surrounded by pleasant, friendly coworkers; and we thoroughly understand every single aspect of our job, and are confident in our abilities.  Why in the world would we be burdened with ennui?

Search for motivation

Pulled in too many directions

In Japan the business culture demands extreme loyalty to your company.  There is always work to be done, and more work to do after that.  There is essentially no practical end to the work, ever in sight.

No one would think to leave the office before the boss leaves because that would show disloyalty to the company.  Instead of “Goodbye” when you finally go, other workers say “otsukaresama deshita” which in Japanese, literally means “You must be tired”, while showing appreciation for your coworker’s extreme hard work”.

In the Japanese culture, it’s customary for workers to take short, frequent naps. They sleep on the train to and from work; they sleep in restaurants (at 160¥ for 10 minutes); and most notably, they sleep at their desks.  Someone caught sleeping at their desk is highly respected because they have worked themselves to exhaustion.  It is called Inemuri, which means “sleeping while present”.

In North American culture, sleeping on the job would get you fired.  Nevertheless, many of us don’t hesitate to take on project after a project to demonstrate dedication and, presumably, to aid our careers.

The problem with that, however, is that as we reach the saturation point and beyond, we start to lose our sense of direction; all the work starts to look the same and our drive to accomplish all of these goals begins to wane.

The precise opposite can be true as well.  When you’re faced with the same five tasks on a Monday-through-Friday basis, with no need to innovate, no hope of a challenge, or any sort of excitement, it can be mind-numbing.  It slowly saps your inspiration; if every single action is so thoroughly within your capabilities that you could accomplish your goals even if you were asleep.

Reinvigorating ourselves

Craig Ferguson, the former host of The Late, Late Show, understood the self-motivation principle very well.  He always kept a picture of a family member on his desk while he was doing the television show.  Whether he was profoundly interested in the topic at hand, or simply “doing the show”, he could always look over at the picture and remember the reason why he was doing what he did.

Whether he derived satisfaction from fulfilling a life ambition of interviewing Desmond Tutu, the former Anglican archbishop, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and South African social rights activist, or simply from when he was being lauded by his fans, if any of that failed him, he had that picture which spoke to his core values.

What makes you “tick”?

Our motivations can be simple because they feel like part of our identity, or they can be complex because of a massive contribution you expect to make to humanity as a result of your work.  The secret is to find that central core that makes your job meaningful, for whatever reason.  Ask yourself:

  1. What inspires me and makes this task important to me?
  2. Is this a worthy task that positively affects others?
  3. Does it align with my personal or professional goals?
  4. Is there an emotional reward to completing this task?
  5. Is this a puzzle-piece that contributes to the big picture?
  6. Is this task challenging enough to keep me interested?

Happy pensive young businesswoman in glasses thinking and working in office

The Takeaway

People who feel that their work has significance, and that it provides them with a sense of purpose, stick with the job three times longer than less motivated individuals who are there “for the money.”  They are also 70 percent happier with their job, and 40 percent more engaged.

These are not trivial things, indicating how truly important it is to “find your bliss.”  There has to be a meaningful reason to do anything or you won’t be fully engaged.

If you are lucky enough to have a significant amount of input into your job assignments, always play to your strengths; when you are faced with a task of great importance that doesn’t stir your passion, it is probably time to pass that task on to someone who cares about it.  If a task fails to engender enthusiasm it is very likely to have a shabby result, and that serves no one.  Don’t settle for “adequate”(or ennui, for that matter)—be passionate, have purpose, and as a consequence you’ll be great!


Fred Coon, CEO


At SC&C we offer Career Analysis to help senior decision-makers from all walks of life identify strategies and tactics to increase their value-add employment potential.