Career Path

The Secret Reasons Why You’re Off Your Game

When nothing seems to be going right at work, one of these reasons is usually the culprit.

It’s the kind of thing you might not notice right away, but when you do, there’s no denying it: you’re totally off your game. Maybe you’re finding that you just don’t have the same energy you used to—you’re zoning out during important meetings and even the tasks you used to enjoy are becoming a chore. Or maybe you’re feeling a bit inept—your boss keeps finding mistakes in your work, and no matter how you try, you can’t seem to hit your deadlines.

Whatever your symptoms are, you’re not alone: in a recent survey, US workers confessed to having an average of 60 “bad days” per year. That’s two whole months spent feeling, well, just off. What’s more, outside factors, such as the future of the country and the current political climate, have created even more of this malaise. In a 2018 survey by the American Psychological Association, 69% of respondents said the future of the country was a significant source of stress, up from 63% the previous year.

US workers confessed to having an average of 60 “bad days” per year.

“Everyone has slumps,” says Karen Huang, director of search assessment at Korn Ferry. “That’s how life is.” And while it may not be obvious to you, there’s likely a good reason why you’re off your game. Here are the four most common culprits and how to resolve them.

You’re bored.

When you’re finding that everything is a struggle, it could be that you’re just not that into the work you’re doing. There could be many reasons for this—maybe your boss has you doing a lot of tedious assignments, or maybe you’re not seeing how the work you’re doing connects to the organization’s greater mission. In any case, feeling disengaged is a bigger problem than it might seem: according to a 2017 survey by Korn Ferry, being bored was the top reason people said they were planning to look for a new job in 2018.

Experts say one way to tackle boredom is to try what’s known as “job crafting.” It’s an approach whereby you analyze your job according to three dimensions—the tasks you perform, your interactions with people, and the meaning you find in your work. Once you’ve done that, look at where you spend the most time, which areas you’d like to change, and how to do that. After one executive in a professional-services firm realized he couldn’t change his basic job duties, he decided to volunteer more often to team up with colleagues on projects of interest. “It definitely keeps work from getting boring,” he says.

You’re overworked.

It’s also possible that you’re feeling off your game because your simply have too much work. The result is that you’re often flitting between projects, unable to spend enough time on any one item and therefore turning in one subpar assignment after another. If this is the case, you may need to have a conversation with your manager about your priorities. Instead of coming in with an accusatory tone (“You’re giving me too much work”), take a conciliatory approach that shows you’re struggling (“I’m finding it hard to manage my workload—I’d love for you to help me figure it out”). Find out which projects you should focus on first and which can be shelved for another time. Don’t worry about whether you’ll make a bad impression. “I guarantee you that your manager would rather you ask than try to second-guess,” says Mary Abbajay, president of Careerstone Group.

You’re surrounded by negativity.

Working with toxic people can take a significant toll on your own mojo. According to a study of more than 14,000 CEOs, managers, and employees, people who were subjected to rude, careless, or unkind behavior at work were found to have “markedly loosened bonds with their work life.” The study showed that nearly half of these employees put in less effort and spent less time at work, and another 38% intentionally let the quality of their work decline.

If possible, limit the interactions you have with negative people and disengage from office gossip. If that doesn’t work, it may be time to consider a move to another team or department, though experts recommend observing the way other teams work before you make the jump. After all, the bad behavior you’ve experienced could be a broader company-culture problem, which means you’re better off looking for a new employer entirely.

You’re struggling in your personal life.

It’s very possible that the challenges you’re experiencing at work aren’t actually due to a work problem. Aside from job pressure, the top sources of stress in the United States are money, health, poor relationships, media overload, and sleep deprivation, according to a 2014 study by the American Psychological Association. Experts recommend keeping a diary of how you’re spending your time, and jotting down thoughts about what’s going well and not so well in your life. This can help you identify the areas of your life that may need some additional help. The fix could be as simple going to bed an hour earlier every night (one in three adults fail to get enough sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), or it could be something more involved, like working with a therapist or nutritionist to overcome deeper personal challenges.

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