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What Do I Do When I am Bored With My Job?

Q: "I'm a bored baby boomer in mid level management with no chance for advancement in the foreseeable future. Some people, like my parents and unemployed friends, say I should feel lucky I have a job, given the current economy. But I wasn't raised during the depression when any position was a precious commodity.

"I like my boss, but his being only seven years older than I is a problem. He has nowhere to go in the company, and he won't be retiring for another 15 years or so. It seems the whole organization is full of people like him and me who have a lot to offer and are quickly outgrowing their jobs.

"I'm not married to this firm, but I think my situation is a lot more positive than many of my friends'. Short of leaving the company, what can I do to ignite my enthusiasm and start feeling productive again?"

A: You're right when you say many talented people are stuck in their organizations with no where to go. As you have personally experienced, the career opportunities for baby boomers are not business as usual. People born from 1946 to 1964 comprise a population bulge often called "the pig in the python." This unusually large piece of demographics is currently filling our mid level management positions and looking longingly at the higher levels of the corporate pyramid, where there are relatively few jobs versus the people qualified to fill them.

Adding to this situation are several other trends which serve to exacerbate the problem:

  • Corporate downsizing in an effort to be more globally competitive and increase shareholder earnings

  • Movement to self-directed work teams, which are changing organizational hierarchies to flatter, more democratic structures

  • Compression of mid management layers, a result of downsizing, self-directed teams and the information revolution

Most baby boomers have grown up assuming their lives will be better than their parents'; they will make more money and rise higher in their companies. Because of all the above factors, their once logical expectations have become unrealistic. And, as you've noticed, some are worried about having a job, let alone moving to an officer position.

But from adversity can come opportunity. Employees who are ready to embrace the idea of managing their own careers will have a tremendous advantage over those who continue to assume the company will take care of them. In the next few years, we will see the emergence of the employee who has little loyalty to any organization and is always prepared to take his portfolio of experience and move on to a more promising position. He will think of his career as a small business and his employer as his current most important client. Always mindful of which assignments will add to his marketability, he won't allow himself to stagnate in one job too long.

This trend represents a good news, bad news scenario. While the mutual commitment and long-term perspective employers and employees used to share is fast becoming an anachronism, their relationship is gaining in parity. The parent/child duo is being replaced by a peer association, with each party making a contribution to the others' well-being.

What do all these economic and societal trends mean to your career? You'll be expected to discover and take advantage of your own opportunities or risk stagnation or job loss. Here are some things you can do to empower (the latest Human Resources buzzword) yourself:

  • Make the most of your current job. Evaluate everything you are doing in light of its efficiency and effectiveness. If you aren't spending most of your time on important and enjoyable activities, change your approach. You may have lulled yourself into a comfortable rut if you've been on the job for a while. Or, you may have inherited some techniques from a predecessor whose style of management doesn't mesh with yours. By taking some time to ensure you are using the smartest, most up-to-date methods, you'll enjoy yourself more and increase in value to your company.

  • Once you've done all you can to improve current activities, consider proposing a new project to your manager. Cutting costs, finding another source of customers, improving quality or customer service, and increasing cooperation among departments are all prime issues likely to facilitate colleague cooperation.

  • A corporate task force is a great way to learn something new, expand your visibility and add marketable experience to your portfolio. Some typical task force issues include developing an interdepartmental MIS process, implementing a total quality program, recognizing and encouraging cultural diversity and building a customer-driven approach to product design and marketing. If there is no task force, create one. There must be some issue you genuinely feel deserves attention. Put together a proposal describing the need and how the organization should tackle it. Present it to your manager for approval. Then, with her okay in hand, solicit the backing of the CEO, who has the power to make it happen.

  • Working on a task force is an excellent way to make contacts in other departments who can recommend you for job openings. New challenges can come from moving laterally when upward mobility isn't feasible. If you can't join a task force, look for other company functions. Many firms have sports teams, singing or hobby groups that are fun and filled with potential in-house contacts. Making an effort to meet other employees at training seminars, the company lunch room, etc. can open some doors for you, too. If your organization has a good Human Resources department, it can facilitate information interviews in areas that peak your interest. Just be sure to tell your manager about your desire to transfer. Emphasize that it has nothing to do with her management style. You want her in your corner when the other department asks approval for your move.

  • Perhaps you should consider looking at other areas of your life for a new challenge. A sense of achievement can come from personal as well as professional arenas. This may be a good time to get more education. An advanced degree or a couple of specialized courses can expose you to new ideas, build your expertise and provide useful contacts. If the courses are job-related, your company will probably pay for them. On the other hand, learning more about history, wine, kayaking, investments, etc. can open a whole new chapter in your life. This may be the time to find out more about those "off the wall" subjects that have intrigued you for years, but you've never had time to pursue.

  • Volunteer work is another way to rejuvenate your spirit. It can give you opportunities to develop new skills, feel you're making an important contribution to the community, gain visibility and, of course, make valuable contacts. If you haven't volunteered before, consider the issues that genuinely concern you. Then, pick an organization which addresses them. The supply of volunteers is less than the demand for them. If you are really committed to your work, you'll be given all the responsibility and authority you want much more quickly than in a paid position.

  • In fact, you may become so involved with your volunteer work, you'll want to take a sabbatical from your job and concentrate your efforts full time on the community project. Many companies have paid programs for just this purpose. For professionals who are bored or burned out, this temporary change of scene can provide wonderful new experience and insight. Often it increases skills that will enhance job performance as well.

  • Joining or forming a Mastermind group can also give you some fresh ideas on how to get more satisfaction out of your career and life. Described in Think and Grow Rich, a book by Napoleon Hill, the Mastermind embraces the idea that the sum is greater than its parts. By gathering together a group of eight to ten inquisitive and open-minded people, you can explore any subjects you choose. Some Masterminds deal with career issues; others may discuss global or community concerns. Participants become good friends and look forward to their meetings as discussions reminiscent of college bull sessions. Mastermind groups are fun and powerful.

  • Probably one of the reasons you're feeling bored is you've run out of mountains to climb. If the only available topography at work is a few measly foothills, set some goals for yourself in your personal life. Train for a marathon; build a game room; research a family genealogy; find a spouse. The list is endless.

So often we expect our careers to provide us with an identity and sense of personal worth. Yet, work is only one facet of who we are. By taking a holistic approach in defining success, we can uncover some fascinating challenges. In the words of Auntie Mame, "Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death." If you're feeling hungry, open your mind to the possibilities around you. Life is too short to be bored.

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