It's a scenario countless workers land in and most dread: When you started your latest job, you were plenty busy as you learned the ropes and established a workflow. But now that you've gotten more efficient, things have tapered off, and you're finding yourself with more and more downtime each week that passes.

Now your first inclination might be to approach your boss, explain that you're bored or underutilized, and simply ask for more things to do. There's just one problem: If you say you need more work, your boss might start to wonder what exactly it is you do all day and whether you're actually needed. And the last thing you want is for your attempt to evade boredom to result in a layoff. Therefore, if you're going to request more work, you'll need to approach that conversation delicately. Here's how.

Two professional females at a conference table


1. Affirm your desire to keep learning

There's a difference between not having enough to do and wanting to grow your knowledge base. So if you spin your request as a means of attaining the latter, your boss is less likely to question your value. Rather than allude to not having enough work, tell your manager you're eager to learn more about the business and that you'd like an opportunity to assist on new projects in an effort to achieve that goal. With any luck, your boss will react positively and give you a chance to broaden your horizons.

2. Don't put the burden on your manager

There's nothing wrong with wanting to do more with your days at work -- but don't make it your manager's responsibility to figure out how you'll fill those gaps. Rather, you should come in with suggestions so your boss doesn't need to be burdened with it. You can present project ideas that are interesting to you, identify things your colleagues are working on that you want to be doing, or dig around and see what areas your company needs more support in, and volunteer your services there. Either way, your request for additional work will more likely be fulfilled if you show up with ideas of your own.

3. Have a plan to grow your skills

Your boss might be willing to give you more responsibility once you ask for it -- but what if you're not ready to take on that additional work? What if you're lacking the skills needed to get it done? When you have that conversation with your manager, be prepared to outline the various ways you're going to get up to speed so that you're able to do the work you're asking for. Will you take an online class? Shadow colleagues who have mastered the skills you're missing? Have this plan ready in advance so your boss doesn't hesitate to increase your workload.

4. Keep your language positive

Wanting more work tends to stem from a place of tedium and frustration, but that's not what you want to convey to your boss. When you sit down to ask for more responsibility, avoid negative statements like "I'm bored" or "I don't have enough to do." Instead, keep the tone of the conversation positive by saying things like "I feel there are a lot of opportunities for me to do more around here, and I'm excited to jump on them." This way, your boss won't get defensive (after all, it's technically your manager's responsibility to make sure your days are filled), and the discussion is more likely to go the way you want it to.

There's no question about it: Being bored at work is a lousy situation to encounter. And it certainly pays to speak up and ask your manager for more to do. Just be sure to go about it the right way so that conversation doesn't backfire and you don't wind up out of a job.