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Boredom in the Workplace - Boreout

By 
Mindfulife
|
01/06/2022

Occasionally it can be relaxing to have a quiet day at work, sit back in the office, chat with colleagues and make plans for the weekend. In the long run, however, being underchallenged and bored at work is a problem and can possibly even lead to a so-called boreout syndrome. 

Read on to find out what boreout is, what causes it and how you can reduce boredom at work.

What is Boreout?

Boreout is not a recognised illness and, in contrast to burnout, has not yet been studied scientifically. It describes a phenomenon that occurs in workplaces and leads to symptoms similar to burnout.

In a way, boreout can be seen as the opposite of burnout: While the person affected by burnout suffers from overwork at the workplace, chronic underwork plays a role in boreout. One could therefore say that those affected suffer from permanent boredom at work.

What causes Boreout?

Essentially, a boreout syndrome can have two different causes: Qualitatively or quantitatively under-demanding tasks.

In the case of quantitative underchallenge a person receives too few tasks - the tasks themselves are appropriately demanding, but the number of tasks a person receives is too small. Therefore, the actual work is done quickly and the rest of the time in the office has to be "sat through". Often, this creates pressure on the person to look busy. 

In the case of qualitative underchallenge the tasks a person is given are not challenging enough. Here, for example, working in quality control on an assembly line is a good example: there is enough work, but the task itself is monotonous and not very demanding, so that there is still boredom at the workplace.

There are various theories as to why such under-challenging is problematic. 

In the context of our meritocracy, we place a strong emphasis on measurable achievements and successes that the individual achieves. For many people, work is an important source of their own self-worth: if you have a fulfilling job, you feel you are making an important contribution to the company or society. However, this strengthening of self-worth falls away if a person is chronically underchallenged and has the feeling that he or she is merely "doing time" at work without engaging in meaningful activities. We spend a large part of our time at work - so the problem is obvious when this time is seen as "pointless" and a "waste".

Chronic underachievement and boredom can also lead to stress. On the one hand, boredom feels unpleasant and the prospect of having to face daily boredom at work is stressful. For another, sufferers often fear for their jobs because they see their own role in the company as useless. In order to avoid dismissal, they often try to look busier than they actually are, for example by dragging out simple tasks unnecessarily. This pretence is often accompanied by a fear of being caught doing nothing, and stress ensues.

What are the signs?

The Frankfurt psychotherapist Wolfgang Merkle named the following symptoms of Boreout, among others:

  • Depression
  • Lack of drive and insomnia
  • Susceptibility to infection
  • Stomach complaints
  • Headaches

The following aspects can be indications that one is suffering from Boreout:

  • Boredom and lack of interest in the work
  • The feeling of being constantly underchallenged
  • Pretending to be busy at work
  • Work is stretched out, tasks are completed much more slowly than necessary
  • Despite the lack of tasks, one has the feeling of being exhausted after work

Tips for combating Boreout

If you suspect that you are suffering from boreout, you can try to counteract the lack of challenges yourself - for example with the following tips:

Langeweile am Arbeitsplatz - Boreout Freizeitaktivitäten können helfen, Selbstwert und Wertschätzung sich selbst gegenüber wieder aufzubauen.
  1. Use spare time: Of course, this is not a solution to the feelings that arise during working hours, but overall, the feelings of dejection and worthlessness associated with boreout can be combated if one builds up one's self-worth in a positive way in one's free time. For example, if you devote your weekends to a challenging new hobby or learn something new, like a language, you can use the resulting moments of success to find a sense of purpose and boost your self-esteem. If necessary, a new language can also be something that can be practised during working hours to keep oneself busy.
  2. Talk with your employer: Easier said than done, but to really escape from boreout, it makes sense to have a conversation with your employer. Here you should mention that you feel you can do more. Maybe there is a project in the company that you can contribute to or a training course that your employer supports. It may be that your supervisor has not noticed that you are underchallenged. Therefore, it is important to openly discuss your own feelings.
  3. Change workplace: If talking to your employer did not help, you should think about changing your job. You should not have to feel that your employer does not value or cannot use your skills and achievements. Maybe you can find a job in your area that fits your job profile better and where you can use your time more wisely.

Finally, if your symptoms, such as low mood and insomnia, are very severe or do not improve with changes at work - for example, you feel this way even after demanding days at work - then it is best to seek further help from a counselling centre or your family doctor.

Summary

Boreout is not yet a recognised illness, but a phenomenon opposite to burnout, in which those affected suffer from chronic under-demand at work. There are some tips that you can try yourself to combat boreout.

Sources

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