Boreout: How You Can Fight It

Picture by Pitsch

We’ve all heard about burnout and its impact on people’s productivity levels, as well as in their personal and professional lives. Awareness of this problem is undoubtedly positive and should be celebrated.

But what about burnout’s opposite, equally-important but practically-unknown sibling boreout?

In 2016, a study led by Udemy revealed that 4 out of 10 Americans have reported feeling bored at work. That’s nearly half the workforce in the US.

Though boreout shares certain similarities with burnout, psychologist Steve Savels lays out their differences best: “With a bore-out, you get stuck in your “comfort zone” for too long, until your personal development comes to a halt. A burn-out happens when you stay for too long in your “effort zone”, until all your energy is gone”.

So what on earth is boreout, how come nobody talks about it and what can you do if you suffer from it?

What on earth is boreout?

The term was initially coined by Swiss authors Philippe Rothlin and Peter Werder in their book Diagnose Boreout. Accordingly, boreout takes place when there’s a gap between working time and the volume of tasks to be performed, which leads to chronic boredom and massive disengagement.

Bored-out employees feel frustrated, sad and socially useless due to not being able to contribute to the development of the business. This causes decreased self-esteem and higher levels of anxiety.

In the long run, boreout can lead to depression and other serious health issues. According to Oxford’s International Journal of Epidemiology, bored workers are 3 times more likely to develop cardiovascular diseases. Similarly, a worker “being bored is more likely to die younger”.

Demographics-wise, according to Udemy, more women report being bored than men (48% vs 39%). Likewise, millennials are nearly twice more likely to experience boredom at work. 

Boreout’s reach and impact are impressive. More surprising though, is the fact that we aren’t talking about it as much as we should. That leads us to the next part.

How come nobody talks about boreout?

Society has exceedingly high regard for professional success, but a considerable aversion towards anything that resembles the opposite. As a result, admitting being bored at work is shameful, embarrassing and self-devaluing. 

How can you openly admit you’re paid to do little (or nothing) when there’s so much unemployment? You spoiled, ungrateful person! How can you admit that your skills and knowledge are being so poorly used? You unprepared, incompetent being!

With that, it’s also easier to comprehend why burnout grabs more attention than its evil sibling. Working your brain until overheating implies a noble effort and big responsibilities, which triggers the empathy of others more easily. As American author Julia Cameron mentions in her book The Artist’s Way, “The sentence ‘I have a lot of work’ contains a certain unassailable air of good and duty”.

The social dynamics around this hinder the mere existence of a discussion about boreout in the first place. But this has to change. There’s no shame or embarrassment in talking about your afflictions in regards to boredom at work. You must prioritize your mental, physical, personal and professional integrity over the “social repercussions” of admitting boreout. Those who truly care about you will understand and support you.

What to do if you suffer from boreout?

Your strategy to fight boreout should be aimed at taking increasingly bigger measures to end it altogether. If one doesn’t work, move on to the next one, and so on.

Talk about it

As mentioned a few lines above, there’s no shame in admitting boreout. Ignore any judgment that may come as a result. Talk about it with your friends, relatives, psychologist (if you have one) and most importantly, your manager; the person with the biggest power to help you fight boreout. 

Share your frustrations, ask for more responsibilities and challenges. The sole fact of letting it out will already contribute a great deal to making you feel better. It may even result in strengthening your relationship with your manager and other coworkers.

Be proactive

If asking for new endeavors doesn’t work, be proactive. Share ideas and offer suggestions. You may have already noticed inefficiencies or instances that have potential for improvement. Propose a plan to address them. Your involvement in projects that are born thanks to your intervention will boost your engagement (and give you a lot of work).

Look for internal mobility

If your manager has no interest in your proposals for adding value, consider speaking to your Human Resources for other opportunities within your company. Do a similar exercise as above and try to identify opportunities within other teams where you can contribute with your work. Most importantly, make sure that this aligns with your personal goals and values.

What you’re looking for may be right in front of your nose! (Or with the team next door).

Develop your skills and professional network

Use the time you’ll have at work to harvest valuable professional relationships. Engage with your colleagues, hang out with people from other teams, be curious and ask questions. In addition, attend networking events in the domains of your interests. Interact with communities of individuals who are in a position you’d like to be in one day. Those you meet today may give you a hand for the opportunity of your life tomorrow. 

In parallel, develop the skills that interest you and contribute to the realization of your personal goals. Your company may have privileged access to training tools, use that to your advantage. Alternatively, there is free or affordable training on just about anything out there, like Udemy, Coursera, Skillshare or even Youtube. 

In short, turn your extra time into an opportunity to thrive as a professional and as an individual! 

Look for external opportunities

If none of your previous measures yield positive results, it’s time to start looking for external opportunities. The company you’re working for does not deserve the value you’re able to provide, and mutual respect is a must-have value in any professional relationship. 

It’s also possible that your boreout is a manifestation of a wakeup call that urges a major career change. If that’s the case, go for it! 

Whatever you decide your next step to be, make sure that it’s something that excites you and it’s in alignment with your skills, values, and personal motivations. If bore-out comes to your life as an open door for its betterment, so be it 🙂

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