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Many underutilized employees ask for more work after starting a new job, says Mr. Werder, of Zurich. "But after one year, although they hate boreout, they stop asking, because no one takes it seriously." Aware that they cannot simply sit at their desks and stare into space, many workers devise strategies to look busy. That often involves technology. "Mobile phones, the Internet, and e-mail make it much easier to pretend to work, to hide that you do not have enough work," Werder says.

For Haase, the road to boreout began after she graduated from college with degrees in journalism and Spanish. Saddled with student loans and needing a paycheck, she took her current job two years ago. "When I was hired, they saw my skill set and said they would use it," she says. "But I'm in my receptionist bubble, and they're not necessarily willing to let me try to do anything more."

Megan Rothman, a marketing copywriter near Charlotte, N.C., describes herself as underchallenged. "One reason I took this position was because I was told we would all wear many hats because we are a small, private company," she says. But after she was hired, that never happened.

"I have asked to take on additional responsibilities or projects that may be outside the typical range of my job description, but my boss doesn't seem to be willing to accommodate me," Ms. Rothman says. "I have lots of skills besides writing, but none of them are being taken advantage of."

She divides her idle time equally between productive tasks, such as reading marketing blogs or doing writing exercises, and nonwork activities, such as Gmail and MySpace.

As unemployment rates soar, Haase, Rothman, and others who feel underworked are quick to express appreciation for having a job and a paycheck. At the same time, workplace specialists emphasize the importance of remaining committed and connected to their employer.

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