We’ve all heard of burnout - being overworked, hitting a wall after working way too hard for way too long. But not everyone knows that being bored at work can also have detrimental effects on us. Obviously, occasional boredom is harmless and perhaps even needed for recovering from those more hectic work periods and gathering strength for the next one. But what if you constantly feel like your job is meaningless, doesn’t challenge you and just leaves you feeling ‘blah’, day after day? This can be harmful both for you and for the organization. According to many studies (such as this one), boreout can lead to decreased wellbeing at work, problems with work safety, diminished motivation and commitment, and higher turnover rates in companies.
But how is this even possible when everyone has so much to do, deadlines are harsh and targets ever higher? Boreout is not just about the amount of work, but the content of your work. You can have plenty to do in terms of the number of tasks or amount of work you need to do, but if you’re not doing something that feels meaningful to you, you run the risk of boreout.
We need to be challenged by tasks that require concentration and effort. We need work that doesn’t conflict too much with our wishes, strengths and core motivations. We need enough time to do our work as well as we would like. If our tasks are too easy, there’s too much idle time, the goals set for us are unrealistic, we don’t have time for what we find important, or work is organized badly, boreout looms around the corner.
On an individual level
Ask yourself what would make your job more interesting. What kind of role would you like to have? What is holding you back from that? Sometimes we avoid asking for more challenging work because we’re afraid it will be too challenging. But is it really better to be bored and frustrated than to try something new and interesting? Sometimes the problem is that our managers have no idea we would like to do something else because we haven’t told them. If we haven’t told them, it’s not really their fault they can’t read our minds, is it? Read up on job crafting, which can help you change your job into the job you want, without finding a new one. But if all else fails, even that option is one to consider - being bored out long term is not healthy and some other job might be better for you.
On a team level
Try to figure out what is holding you back as a group. Are you communicating enough about what you’re doing, does everyone get feedback for what they’ve done so that they can improve and develop their work? Are you adapting to your environment or are you doing things in ways that used to work at one point, but don’t really fit what you’re doing now? Meetings for the sake of meetings, sitting in the same place at the same time, producing nothing, can also be a major source of boreout. Setting goals and applying a structure to each meeting can help make them feel more meaningful. A discussion about roles and responsibilities can open up possibilities to shift focus on an individual level and between team members, for example by finding new interests and meaningful tasks.
Organizations can’t afford not to use their best talents for what they do best, or to have them leave because they didn’t find their work interesting enough. If too many talented key employees are leaving, ask yourself why that is. Do they have enough opportunities to learn and develop? Is there enough time for people to meet and exchange ideas, to be creative? Do they feel like their opinions count and their work is meaningful? Hiring talented people sometimes means they will have something to say about how their work is organized or what could be done better. Listen to them.
About Mari Järvinen
I’m a psychologist (MSc), currently specialising in work and organisational psychology. For 10 years, I’ve been working with the most intriguing, complex and varied workplace issues you can ever imagine. All the good things: work engagement, flow, innovation, creativity, leadership, teamwork...but also the dark side: conflicts, problems, stress, incivility and even bullying.
Currently I’m living in Amsterdam and getting immersed in the wonderful, innovative and exciting world of startups - learning about them and also volunteering to help great businesses grow and avoid some of the pitfalls along the way. Writing this blog is a part of my collaboration with Coachademy, who were kind enough to invite me to work at their office for a few hours per week. I will cover different topics depending on what pops into my mind, so let me know if there are specific topics you would like me to write about! I hope you enjoy reading it!