The boss is missing. Again. You hate to be bored and are searching for ways to keep busy. So you shoot off an email with a few project ideas. You get a reply a day later: “Thanks, I will take a look.” But you know this will never happen. What is the point?

Call off the search team. I know where the boss is. And I know why your ideas will never go anywhere. I once reported to someone who did this often. Let’s call him Joe. Joe was usually locked away working on a plan for the next quarter. But he was so paralyzed by the fear of making the wrong choices and looking bad that his plans never materialized. As a result, neither did the team’s work.

It is too bad that your boss is distracted by fear and uncertainty. But where does that leave you?

I bet you are left feeling frustrated and inefficient. Maybe even a little defeated. You are craving a sense of purpose — you want to do more than merely show up for a paycheck. Some days you might even want to scream, “This job is pointless!”

This is not an invalid feeling. Science backs up your need to believe in what you are doing at work. Studies show that your level of pay is only marginally related to job satisfaction. And you are more likely to thrive and grow if you find meaning in your work.

So, are you feeling adrift at work? Take a moment and try to understand the root cause. If you are honest, maybe you are lacking your own motivation or eagerness to contribute. Or maybe this “what is the point?” feeling is a reaction to your surroundings.

The signs are there — you just need to identify them. Here are some of the root causes of a meaningless workplace:

No clear goals
Meaningful work requires that you understand what you are working towards. And if leaders are not able to share the “why” behind the plan, then trouble will follow fast. The best bosses share exactly what the goals are and how each person on the team contributes to the overall plan. Otherwise? No clear goals, no clear point to the work.

Working with fear
Feeling stuck and scared is a bad combination. But it is an especially toxic duo at work. Between all the company infighting and anxiety about being wrong, fear-driven leaders can become paralyzed, unable to make any decisions. To the team, it seems like no real action is ever taken. And so all those great ideas and potential are left to collect dust — until eventually people stop trying altogether.

Untapped skills
Ideas are not the only thing collecting dust. The team’s skills are languishing as well. Since no meaningful work is getting done, people are left in an unfortunate position — no opportunity to use current skills or any chance to hone new ones. It feels like everyone is just treading water until a new opportunity comes into view.

Hype over output
We have established that there are no real decisions being made, no meaningful work getting done, and no growth opportunities. But people are showing up each day and doing something with their time. What exactly is going on? In all likelihood, people are spending the day managing perceptions — more concerned with appearances than doing actual work. The hype machine is chugging along nicely, fed by unclear goals, generalized fear, and untapped potential.

No job is perfect or without its tough days. But with a sense of purpose at work, even your worst days will feel like stepping stones to a greater goal.

So what do you do if you are working at a company where progress is stalled? Do not be discouraged. You can take steps to create it for yourself. Start small. Do awesome work that you can control. Make others look great in the process. Proactively seek ways to contribute to your team and those around you.

You deserve to work with a boss who wants to take well-informed risks with the team and do good work. Not someone who is frozen with fear.

Have you been affected by a boss’s anxiety?

Originally published on the Aha! blog