How to be more engaged at work

Novelty is the key to banishing boredom.
By Anslee Wolfe

Bored at work? You're not alone.

Sixty-seven percent of employees worldwide are not engaged at work, according to Gallup's 2017 State of the Global Workplace report, while another 18% are actively disengaged.

It's not surprising work can become humdrum for so many of us, said Daniel Cable, an organizational behavior professor at the London Business School. He even wrote a book about disengagement at work, the recently published Alive at Work: The Neuroscience of Helping Your People Love What They Do.

"Disengagement isn't a motivational problem — it's a biological one," he said. "Humans aren't built for routine and repetition. We're designed to crave exploration, experimentation, and learning."

All that fun stuff lights up "the seeking system" part of our brains, releasing dopamine, Cable said. We feel more enthusiastic, curious, and engaged. That enthusiasm can fade if work becomes too routine.

But boredom can spark change if we pay attention to it.

"It is our body's way of telling us that we are not exploring our environment, that we are not learning," said Cable, who consults with companies worldwide, including Deloitte and PwC.

Here are some ways to get out of a workplace slump:

Build relationships with co-workers. "Work is more enjoyable and you feel much more engaged when you like the people you work with. But it's hard to like them if you don't really know them," said Jessie Wright, CPA, CGMA, a supervisor at Schroedel, Scullin & Bestic, an accounting and strategic advisory firm in Canfield, Ohio.

Bond with co-workers when it's convenient for your lifestyle, such as during a quick drink after work or while jogging, she suggested. Those with young children could meet at the park on weekends. At Wright's firm, some co-workers train together for an annual run-or-walk fundraiser to fight breast cancer.       

Get to know yourself. Self-analysis tools, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, offer insight into understanding your strengths and what types of tasks bring out your peak performance, said Joy Lin, coach and founder of Quarter Life Joy, a global coaching and consulting company based in Los Angeles. That self-awareness will help cultivate work that engages you.

"For many of us, growth happens outside our comfort zone, so boredom can kick in when we have become too routine or comfortable," Lin said. "If you are a visionary strategist and enjoy coming up with ideas and creating big-picture plans, you may be disengaged after doing weeks of detailed project execution. The key is recognizing these clues and course-correcting as needed."

Take on new tasks. Working with different teams at your firm can help you feel connected, said Ivannia Graber, CPA, a manager with Insight Accounting Group in Goshen, Ind. Take the marketing team, for example.

"Working with your firm's marketing team helps you to connect with co-workers in a different setting, to get to know your clients better, and to get out and network in the community — and being more involved means feeling more engaged," said Graber, a 2016 AICPA Leadership Academy graduate.

Try a new approach. Changing up your existing routines can make work more meaningful and enjoyable. Cable gave the example of a flight attendant who dreaded delivering the preflight safety announcement over the speaker.

"Sometimes he would have to rattle off the dry, memorized statement six times each day, and it got to the point where he could watch himself deliver the script like he was a robot he was controlling," Cable said. "Rather than put himself to sleep, he started to work on the announcement using one of his signature strengths: rapping."

He'd ask passengers to help out by stomping and clapping while he rapped the announcement, which included lines like, "Shortly after takeoff, first things first; there's soft drinks and coffee to quench your thirst."

Speak up. Let your supervisor know you want to talk about how you can perform at your best.

"Don't be afraid to open up a conversation about work you'd like to do more of, explore, or cut out," Lin said. "Focus the conversation on solutions and ways you could be an asset while also increasing your engagement level."

Wright, a 2017 AICPA Leadership Academy graduate, had an opportunity to help engage a co-worker in accounts receivable who told her that she wanted something more challenging. Wright was happy to share some of her own higher-level responsibilities.

"It's really great she told me that," Wright said. "It freed me up and allowed me to take on challenges, and her job became more interesting. It's a win-win."

Anslee Wolfe is a freelance writer based in Colorado. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, a JofA senior editor, at

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