Everyone’s heard of burn out, but could you be suffering from rust out instead? Let’s say you’re a car. Burn out could be the equivalent of being driven too hard, too fast, and for too long. Rust out would be more like sitting in the backyard, being driven too little, never allowed to reach your potential, until you’re literally just gathering rust.
In the working world, rust out is the phenomenon of feeling underutilized, under fulfilled, and undervalued in your job. You may be sitting around with not enough to do and no authority to do more. Or you may be busy doing the same repetitive tasks that don’t really challenge or interest you or show what you’re capable of.
You may be thinking, “I could do so much more, be so much better, if only I’d get a chance.” You might even be thinking, “Why bother to even try?” It’s a different kind of demoralizing work scene to burnout, but rust out can ultimately be as exhausting and bad for your personal and professional well-being.
How can you recognize rust out? Why is it so harmful? And, most importantly, what can you do about it? Let’s take a look at some possibilities.
You may be experiencing rust out if:
- You wake up Monday morning feeling like you’re getting on a treadmill, going nowhere.
- You find that you stop caring about doing your best.
- You start resenting your boss, coworkers and almost anybody and anything that seems to be keeping you stuck.
- You frequently have thoughts like: “I earned a degree for this? This isn’t how I saw my career, or my life, going. Is this all there is?”
What’s the harm?
You know how bad burn out is and may be thinking, “So what if my day job isn’t so challenging? Won’t that just leave me with more energy and less stress?” Well – maybe not so much. Here are some reasons why:
- Boredom can lead to apathy which can lead to depression or hopelessness.
- If it feels like what you do doesn’t matter, you lose satisfaction in even trying.
- You might end up (knowingly or unknowingly) sabotaging your career since why bother doing your best?
- Like with its opposite, burn out, rust out can harm your physical and mental health, affect your relationships and cause your career to stall.
- It’s hard to live a satisfying life when so many of your waking hours leave you feeling ineffective, unappreciated and uninspired.
- If you aren’t able to shine in your current job, it may be harder to get promoted or hired for something better.
What can you do about rust out?
#1: Find ways to make your job more engaging
First, think of tasks and responsibilities that would interest you and use more of your potential, then talk with your supervisor about doing more of those. Or, you might try moving to a different department or job description within the same company, for a change and a chance to expand, without having to take a major leap.
Second, find small things you can change in your normal day to feel a bit more engaged. For example, use your strengths to help a co-worker, add your personal flair when writing up a report, or just think about your role in the big picture of what the company is accomplishing.
Third, see if you can change your mindset if you can’t change your workday. If you find ways to think about and approach your work that align with your personality type and personal values, you’ll have a greater sense of satisfaction, even if nothing else changes in the short term.
#2: Find ways to make your time off more engaging
Another way to re-ignite your passion and interest in your work life is to rekindle the things that interest and engage you in your time off. If you re-start a hobby you’ve abandoned, spend more time doing things you love with people you love, or just get away for a change of scenery, your renewed energy and interest could start to carry over into your work life.
This isn’t to suggest that you take a long-term living-for-the-weekends approach, continuing to merely tolerate your job while getting all your satisfaction elsewhere. But if you push past the apathy that results from rusting out at work and find something inspiring to do in your time off, it might help you break through your career slump as well. At the least, finding joy where you can will help you hold on until something at work changes for the better.
#3: Find a new job or career that excites you
If you’re still not feeling it at work and your efforts to expand your opportunities for engagement are met with resistance – or a brick wall – you might need to start looking for a different setting or kind of work that does help you feel motivated, valued and inspired again. If you’re not happy or appreciated where you are, and know you’re not not being allowed to reach your potential, it’s probably time for a change.
To help you find a better alternative, think about what about your current job isn’t working for you, what you would need to feel engaged and inspired, and what kind of work and environment you feel would be a better fit. Then use these lists to guide your search for a new job or a completely new direction.
You may also want to take a career aptitude test to give you more information to guide you toward work that will reignite your engine and polish off the rust. Career tests form the basis of any career planning and development exercise, so even if you’re not ready to make a big leap just yet, they’re a great place to start.
#4: Take a personality test (or three)
In addition to taking career aptitude tests, taking any kind of personality test will help you decide what kind of career may be a good fit for you, what kind of specific work environment you’d feel most at home in, and what you need in order to feel happy and fulfilled and able to do your best work.
For example, the DISC test is a great career assessment tool as it helps identify what types of tasks and communication approaches, or work styles, fit you best, while the Type/Finder test will help define your broader personality type, including your values, motivations and what career categories you’re likely to thrive in.
The more personality tests and career tests you take, the broader the understanding you’ll get of yourself, what kind of work you’re best suited for and how to just get the most out of your life in general. Understanding your personality type will also help you know what to look for to get a sense of satisfaction from your work. Knowing what you specifically need, based on your personality type, may also help you find ways to recharge your enthusiasm for your current job, at least in the meantime.