The term ‘burnout’ is widely recognised in the world of work. However, its quieter cousin, “rust out”, is a phenomenon that’s less talked about but equally as impactful. For many employees, rust out can feel like being trapped in a monotonous loop, yearning for challenges and longing for meaningful engagement. Following our previous article, Rust Out in the Workplace: Recognising and Addressing Disengagement, let’s look at the landscape of rust out from an employee’s viewpoint and explore ways you can navigate this experience.
The Emotional Experience of Rust Out
- Feeling Undervalued: One of the strongest emotions associated with rust out is the feeling of not being appreciated or valued. You might feel that your capabilities exceed the tasks you are given.
- Desire for Growth: A constant yearning to learn, expand horizons, and push boundaries, but feeling stifled by the current role or environment.
- A Sense of Stagnation: The dread of sameness, where days blend into one another, and there’s a palpable lack of excitement or anticipation for the day’s tasks.
- Diminished Passion: Over time, the job or role that was once a source of pride and enthusiasm becomes merely a means to an end.
- Frustration and Resignation: A combination of frustration over not being utilised fully and a resignation to the status quo, leading to diminished effort and commitment.
Warning Signs of Rust Out
- Lack of Motivation: A pronounced dip in the eagerness to start the day or take on tasks.
- Avoidance Behaviour: Procrastinating more than usual or taking longer breaks to escape the monotony.
- Reduced Social Interaction: Diminished interest in interacting with colleagues or participating in workplace events.
- Feedback Seeking: Constantly seeking feedback, hoping for new challenges or validation that your skills matter.
- Desire for Change: Feeling the need for a new project, role, or environment.
Navigating Out of Rust Out
- Self-awareness: Recognise and acknowledge feelings of rust out. Understanding your emotions is the first step towards addressing them.
- Open Communication: Schedule a discussion with your manager or HR to express feelings and aspirations. Be clear about your desire for growth or change.
- Seek Learning Opportunities: Even if the current role feels restrictive, look for online courses, workshops, or seminars. Upskilling can be a gateway to new responsibilities.
- Network: Engage with colleagues, industry peers, or join professional associations. Networking can lead to new opportunities and insights.
- Self-care: Engage in activities outside of work that stimulate the mind and soul. This could be a new hobby, reading, or even travel. External stimulation can often offset feelings of stagnation at work.
- Consider a Change: If all efforts within the current organisation do not yield desired results, it might be time to consider a new role or even a new organisation that aligns better with your personal and professional growth aspirations.
Rust out can be a silent struggle, leading to feelings of entrapment and unfulfillment. However, with self-awareness, proactive communication, and a desire for growth, you can chart a path out of rust out and reignite your professional passion.
Author: Ros Cardinal, Shaping Change.
If you feel you need some support to navigate the challenges of Rust Out, coaching can help. You can schedule a 30-minute, complimentary conversation with Ros here.