Spotting Boreout Syndrome

by Stacy Blackman Consulting, Oct 18, 2021

We’re all familiar with burnout, but have you heard of its equally evil twin, boreout? Instead of dealing with excessive busyness and overflowing plates, people who suffer from boreout syndrome experience a mental underload at work.

Swiss business consultants Philippe Rothlin and Peter Werder coined this notion of workplace demotivation in 2007. They define boreout as “an imbalance between time spent at work and the volume of tasks to be performed.” Employees can experience boreout when there is:

  • Lack of purpose
  • Little intellectual stimulation
  • No prospect for progression

Like it or not, we live in a culture where our careers form a cornerstone of our identity. With boreout, your personal and professional growth comes to a halt. You’re left with the sense that your work has no meaning. Some people feel this way when their day-to-day responsibilities don’t match the initial job description. For many, the problem is not having enough to do, or that the tasks are too repetitive.

(You can take this quiz to see whether you're on the path to boreout or have already arrived.)

This demotivation harms both employees and their companies—and it appears to be a growing concern. A study by Udemy found that 43% of U.S. office workers felt bored on the job. It affected women more than men (48%-39%), and Millennials were twice as likely as baby boomers to report feeling this way.

Author and London Business School professor Dan Cable says that when we’re bored at work, that’s a sign our brain is trying to tell us something. In this video for Big Think, Cable explains that, from an evolutionary perspective, our minds constantly seek out new things to help us keep learning.

But in modern society’s push to streamline and automate processes, workers are encouraged to keep their heads down and “stay in their lane”—especially at large corporations. This often leads to employees who have no genuine sense of connection to the product or service they provide.

What to Do About Boreout

Similar to the side effects of burnout, people experiencing boreout can develop self-esteem issues, depression, anxiety, insomnia, headaches, and more. Meanwhile, Gallup estimates that disengaged employees cost U.S. companies a whopping $350 billion in lost productivity each year. In other words, the struggle is real.

If you feel bored at work and are ready to address the issue, consider asking your supervisor if you can take on a new role or more meaningful tasks. “Employers need to make room for and encourage employee communications,” say Rothlin and Werder. “Simple efforts to give positive feedback make a difference, and adding challenging, non-repetitive work tasks also helps.”

Not every employer can or will accommodate an employee struggling in this way. Ultimately, the responsibility lies within you to make your work meaningful again. In the pandemic era, a lot of people feel like their work is meaningless right now. Try talking with a career coach or mentor who can help identify what you need to change. The answer may end up being that it’s time to find a new job. In any case, once you identify the root cause of your boredom, you can create an action plan to change things for the better.

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This tip sheet on boreout appeared initially on the Blacklight, Stacy Blackman's weekly newsletter for professionals. At the Blacklight, we aim to illuminate with every dispatch that lands in your inbox. If you’re thirsty for guidance to help you slay it at work or as a student and move your goalposts closer, sign up today!