The Velvet Rut is a term I heard last week from my old mate Steve Preston who, being a career coach, meets quite a lot of people who are in them.
A Velvet Rut is where you find yourself in an unfulfilling job in which you are not learning anything new, not using the full extent of your skills and are just bored stiff. You probably disconnected several months ago and are now just going through the motions. The work is no longer stretching. You can do most of it with your eyes closed so you are unlikely to get fired for poor performance. Your level of competence and familiarity with the job means that, while it is not exciting, it isn’t scary either. You are pretty much marking time. The difference between the Velvet Rut and any normal rut, is that the pay and benefits are very good. You couldn’t get the same amount of money for such an easy life anywhere else.
The longer you stay, the more comfortable the environment becomes because you know the organisation inside out and can therefore work the system. You thus minimise the risk of anything unexpected happening or of being faced with difficult situations. Seniority and good relationships leave you well placed politically, so the pay rises and reasonable bonuses keep coming. You are also too expensive to make redundant because of your long service. You might feel as if your brain is shrinking and sometimes want to scream at the tedium and banality of it all but, in the final analysis, they are paying you way too much for you to pack it in and do something else.
Investment banks and other large City firms often have lots of people in Velvet Ruts, especially in support services like HR and IT. They pay people large amounts of money to take all the crap that is a feature of these organisations but many stay because they have effectively priced themselves out of the market. When I worked for an investment bank, I saw colleagues getting into Velvet Ruts. I had one of those ‘Aha’ moments when I realised that, if I stayed, I would be doing exactly the same stuff next year and the year after. I left for a job elsewhere paying same money instead of looking for one paying more. Had I stayed, I might well be richer by now but I would probably have been sectioned several years ago.
I know a few people who are still in Velvet Ruts. They are difficult to get out of and often it’s only an external shove, such as redundancy or health problems, that moves people on.
That said, at least a Velvet Rut pays well and, if you get really bored, you can compensate for the lack of stimulation at work by finding it in in your spare time. It is no coincidence that many of those I have known who were in Velvet Ruts were also the community activists, charity organisers, residents’ association committee members and hobby-club newsletter writers that the rest of us rely upon so much. Even the Velvet Rut, it seems, has some social benefits.