You’ve been in your job for nearly three years and the things that you once found exciting no longer interest you. The hours drag by and you begin to dread going into work every morning, knowing the same, unfulfilling work awaits at your desk.
Over time, you feel increasingly disengaged and frustrated, and begin to doubt your ability to do anything else. Essentially, you’re bored — but finding a new job is difficult and you have rent and bills to pay, so you resign yourself to the situation.
We’ve all heard of burnout, a dangerous state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion affecting an increasing number of workers. But few people have heard of another phenomenon: Boreout.
What is boreout?
Employee boredom is a growing workplace problem. First coined by Peter Werder and Philippe Rothlin in their 2007 book of the same name, early symptoms of boreout include demotivation, dissatisfaction, anxiety and low mood. Over time, this can lead to chronic stress, low self-esteem, and even physical illness.
According to Werder and Rothlin, the problem has been on the rise for many years. Without feeling challenged at work — and because of repetitive and monotonous tasks — employees give up and struggle with what is effectively the opposite of workplace burnout.
Earlier this year, the problem gained notoriety after a Paris appeals court upheld a so-called ‘boreout claim’ by a former employee at a French perfume company. The firm was ordered to pay €40,000 (£36,000) in damages to Frederic Desnard, who suffered from boredom at work because he wasn’t given anything interesting to do in his job.
Desnard first lodged the complaint at a labour relations tribunal, stating his job turned him into a “professional zombie.” He said that he was asked to do nothing but menial tasks over the course of four years. According to the French newspaper Le Monde, Desnard had an epilepsy attack in 2014 while driving his car, causing an accident and blamed his working conditions.
Why is boredom at work a problem?
According to a study published by Udemy, 43% of workers report feeling bored at work. More than half of those who responded who described issues with boredom said they felt this way for more than half of their working week.
For many people, being bored at work may seem like a luxury. After all, having too little to do is preferable to being swamped with meetings, projects and emails — and having no time for activities outside of work.
Studies have suggested that a certain level of boredom can actually be beneficial, too. In a 2014 paper by University of Central Lancashire researchers Sandi Mann and Rebekah Cadman, found that dull tasks may lead to divergent thinking and daydreaming, which can boost creativity.
However, research also suggests that being continually bored at work can have a detrimental impact on both employees and employers. Boredom can make us feel dissatisfied, stressed, unhappy and low in energy, which can impact our mental health and wellbeing, as well as our career prospects.
Boredom is also known to be a leading indicator of disengagement, which can be extremely costly for businesses too. Employees who are bored and disengaged may feel emotionally disconnected from their companies and are likely to be less productive, according to a Gallup study.
Those who are disinterested in their work may take longer to get things done, or waste time to appear busier than they are. Rather than being punctual, they may come into work late and leave early, or call in sick more often.
In some cases, bored employees may negatively influence colleagues and work against their employers’ interests. Overall, actively disengaged employees cause U.S. companies between $450 and $550bn (£418.7bn) in lost productivity per year, the Gallup research found. Bored employees are also more likely to quit, too.
If you’re bored at work, leaving your job doesn’t have to be the only answer. Speak to your employer and ask if there are any new opportunities available or projects you can take on. If not, suggest ways you can make your work more interesting, for example, by organising volunteer projects within your company.
But remember, it’s about finding a healthy balance between being challenged and staying engaged, but making sure you aren’t overwhelmed with work — which can be easier said than done.