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‘Rust Out’ - Boredom in the Workplace

Updated: Jan 30

Woman on a laptop struggling with rust out, burn out

Burnout has been a common workplace trend that is widely discussed as an important issue for many employees. However, recently another trend has emerged, referred to as the ‘cousin’ of burnout: rust out. A survey conducted by mmhmm has shown that 67% of knowledge workers have experienced rust out all or some of the time in the past year. We know that burnout causes individuals to feel overwhelmed and emotionally exhausted due to pushing themselves over their physical and mental limits, which can cause terrible effects to their well-being. Rust out, on the other hand, is the result of being underwhelmed in the workplace through uninspiring and monotonous work.

What is Rust Out?

Rust out and burnout are similar in the sense that they both cause a loss of interest in job positions. Rust out, however, is a feeling of boredom and disengagement at work. It is job dissatisfaction due to feeling like the work being done is unfulfilling and repetitive, and sometimes due to overqualification for the position. Some employees might feel that they have no way of advancing in a business, and continue to do the same tasks that they no longer feel challenged by. This growing disinterest at work leads to boredom and frustration, and negative effects on mental health and productivity.

Causes and Effects of Rust Out

As stated previously, a big cause of workplace rust out is overqualification for a job. An individual with a lot of experience and skills being assigned tedious, menial tasks can cause a loss of a sense of purpose in the position. Employees in this situation might also feel that their employers would not listen to a request for more fulfilling work, causing further disengagement.

Similarly to burnout, rust out can cause a significant decrease in productivity and an increase in absenteeism. In some cases, employees dealing with the issue of rust out might consider leaving their position altogether. As reported by mmhmm, 72% of people surveyed have left or would leave a job from feeling rust out. This shows how great an impact this phenomenon has on employee retention when employees are disengaged in their work.

Many of the effects of rust out cause problems not only in the workplace, but outside of it. These can include depression, isolation, sleepiness, headaches, and an increase in risk-taking behaviors.

How Employers Can Prevent Rust Out

The good thing is that rust out can be treated as well as prevented in the workplace. Most of its cause is tied back to company leadership, as it is their job to make sure their employees feel valued and interested in their work. Here are a few ways that employers can mitigate rust out in their companies:

  • Providing employees with flexibility and autonomy is a great way to combat rust out. 60% of knowledge workers are more productive when provided with the autonomy to manage their workloads, and 51% of people state that being allowed to work asynchronously or set their own schedule helps them be more productive.

  • Listening to employees when they wish to advance in their work or switch to another role is crucial. Employees work better when they are interested in what they are doing, so perhaps new responsibilities will be effective in reducing the chances of rust out. In addition, providing opportunities for learning in the workplace can help keep employees engaged.

  • Increasing employee recognition is highly beneficial when it comes to productivity and job satisfaction. Rewarding employees for their accomplishments can help them feel as if the work they are doing is important as well as make them feel valued and respected in their positions.

Employees can also take action on their own to help combat the symptoms of rust out. Taking a course to learn something new or further one’s skills is a helpful way to reignite motivation. A vacation or a new hobby outside of work is also an effective way to lessen the effects of boredom and disinterest.

Overall, the effects of rust out are not something to be taken lightly in the workplace. As with burnout, it is important to discover the signs of rust out in employees before they decide that they might find more meaningful work at a different company. It is something that can be prevented if employers take the necessary efforts required to make the different aspects of their business more engaging for their teams.

Are you feeling the effects of rust out and looking for a company that will provide a better environment for you? Our team at Sedna Consulting Group can help you find a position that is a great fit for you and your needs. Send us a message on LinkedIn or Instagram to get in touch with our team of experienced career coaches.



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