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How To Handle the Co-worker Who Is Always Bored

You feel like you're barely keeping up at work lately. There's always so much to do! Then your co-worker utters the three of the most dreaded words in the workplace lexicon: I'm so bored. Let's talk about the constantly-bored co-worker!

Everyone gets bored at work sometimes. But saying "I'm so bored" at work is generally a very bad idea, because it makes our co-workers think we're lazy and lacking in creativity.

When we utter "I'm so bored" at work, our colleagues might also hear it as: "I don't want to do this work." Message: I'm not a very good team player.

Still, these downsides do not stop your ennui-clad co-worker from regaling you with regular boredom status updates throughout the work day. "I'm so booooored," she says as she does a 360-degree spin in her office chair. "I can't believe it's only 10 a.m. Aren't you bored, too?"

No, you aren't bored -- you're way too busy for your current pay grade and you wish this co-worker would find a way to self-soothe her way through the modern workplace! What gives?

Perhaps the bored co-worker truly is caught up on the work and has nothing to do. The Great Recession resulted in some awfully light workloads, so it's not entirely out of the question that your co-worker is caught up on work. We'll deal with this situation later in the post.

Perhaps the bored co-worker is simply looking to make conversation, or is yearning for attention and thinks that revealing her sense of ennui on a regular basis is a great conversation starter. (Not.)

Perhaps the bored co-worker needs constant redirection, is burned out on the job, came to the job lacking a basic interest in the work itself, or is over-skilled for the job.

Perhaps the bored co-worker thinks it looks cool to say how "bored" he or she is -- sort of like a hipster being forced to listen to Top 40 radio. This job is crass commercialism at its very worst, and this Pabst Blue Ribbon-less workplace is full of sell-outs who listen to Katy Perry on Pandora!

Luckily, it's not your job to pinpoint the source of a co-worker's boredom problem, but there are a few steps you can take to deflect this co-worker's constant commentary. Here are five tips for working alongside the constantly-bored co-worker:

1. Ask them to solve the problem. You might ask the constantly bored co-worker: "If you're bored, then what are you going to do about it?" Simply let the question hang in the air. Thinking about it gives this co-worker something to do, at the very least. If they're annoyed by your suggestion, then they can look busy being annoyed. Hey, it worked for George Costanza!

2. Offer some work to do. Is there something you'd like to get off your plate? If you're bored, I always have some invoices that need filing and when you're done with that you can make 50 copies of a report. It's sort of like when we were kids and we told Mom how "bored" we were, only to have her say that we could always fold a basket of laundry and then unload the dishwasher. Funny how we found something else to keep ourselves occupied.

3. Introduce this co-worker to busy work. Looking busy is becoming a lost art form. Employees who grew up being shuttled from one activity to another with little downtime, for example, may not know how to cultivate an aura of busy-ness and feel incredibly flummoxed when they encounter boredom. You might suggest a few "busy work" ideas, or ideas for working ahead. As they say in the restaurant business: "If you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean."

4. Be encouraging. Your co-worker may indeed be bored by the work, but they may also be too afraid to work toward a solution. You might encourage the bored co-worker to think about what they want out of a job. You might suggest helpful business books and TED talks, or reveal how you handled boredom in past jobs, too. We've all been there.

5. Kindly tell this co-worker to stop it. If all else fails and a co-worker won't stop saying how "bored" they are every day, then it's okay to politely ask them to stop. Would they kindly save their commentary for break time? Please? We're trying to get some work done around here!

Another tip: The constantly-bored co-worker may actually be the brave soul who is trying to convey something very important about how the workplace is managed. How, exactly, did a few incredibly-busy co-workers land all the best projects while their co-workers can barely fill the day with busy work? Hmm. The constantly-bored co-worker could be raising a red flag regarding stark imbalances in the workload that require in-depth review, and ongoing discussion. One thing is clear: The team meeting where this question is raised would be anything but boring.

I'm sure there are many other bits of advice for dealing with our bored co-workers, but this is a start. Feel free to share what has worked for you. I'm sure your advice won't be nearly as boring as mine.


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