We’ve all heard about burnout at work. Many of us have experienced it, particularly after the stress and upheaval of the past year and a half, and there are thousands of articles online alerting us to the signs and symptoms of burnout. But in addition to feeling overstretched and undervalued at work, many of us are also likely to experience another, similarly named and equally harmful phenomenon: boreout at work.
While burnout is a result of stress and poor work/life balance—as well as the glorified culture of overwork—boreout occurs when we’re so bored and dissatisfied at work that it all just seems a bit pointless. According to Lotta Harju, a professor of organisational behaviour at EM Lyon Business School in France, “Boreout is chronic boredom”.
While it’s normal to feel bored at work from time to time, chronic boredom is very different, and it comes with an emotional toll that can have serious effects on our health and wellbeing. Boreout is specifically related to feeling spiritually disconnected at work: we might feel separate from our colleagues, detached from our company’s vision, and as though our role lacks any sort of purpose or meaning.
The signs of boreout are similar to the signs of burnout: you might feel overwhelmed, exhausted, or emotionally drained. If you’re suffering from boreout, it can feel like you’re just going through the motions—walking numbly through the working day without gaining anything of value. You might feel rudderless, as though you’re treading water without purpose or direction.
It might seem odd that feeling bored at work can have such a damaging effect, but when we’re not mentally challenged in our jobs, or we feel detached and disconnected, it's easy to feel like there’s no point to it all. "Boreout can make a person feel empty, which can lead to things like feeling angry, frustrated, apathetic, fatigued, nervous, stressed, anxious or jittery", says Nancy Sokarno, a psychologist at digital mental health company, Lysn.
According to Pablo Vandenabeele, clinical director for mental health at Bupa UK, “Early signs of boreout may include feelings of anxiety, sadness, and depression…. You may find yourself feeling underwhelmed if your workload is repetitive, easy, and there’s not much opportunity for social interaction, leaving you feeling disconnected from your work and colleagues.”
We know boreout doesn’t simply manifest after the odd dull day at work—so what actually causes it? According to experts, there are three main factors:
1. Lack of purpose: feeling disconnected from your job or your company, as well as what you can achieve through your work.
2. Lack of intellectual challenge: not being mentally challenged at work, or not having the chance to use your knowledge and skills; being able to do your work without any effort.
3. Lack of prospect of progression: feeling a sense of stagnation at work, as though there are no opportunities of professional development or work projection.
The dangers of boreout shouldn’t be underestimated. It can lead to depression, stress, fatigue and apathy, cause feelings of anger and frustration, and lead to conditions like insomnia. But the dangers aren’t just psychological. According to psychologist Nancy Sokarno, boreout can also “cause tinnitus, susceptibility to infection, stomach issues, headaches, dizziness and general unhealthiness (often due to a person looking to unhealthy foods to fill an emotional void)."
From a company perspective, boreout can be extremely costly. It can lead to economic losses and human capital, and was undoubtedly a factor in ”The Great Resignation” of 2021. It can even lead to hefty payouts: last year a French perfume company was ordered to pay a former employee €40,000 after his lawyers successfully argued that he had suffered such extreme boreout it led to a nervous breakdown; the courts ruled that the boreout amounted to “moral harassment”.
So what’s the best way to tackle boreout? Dealing with it can be a challenge, because usually by the time you recognize the fact that you’re experiencing boreout, you’re already seriously demotivated. But leaving your job doesn’t have to be the answer, and there are ways you can overcome boreout.
First, as with any issue, talking it out can help. Speaking to someone you trust about how you feel can help you make sense of your boreout, as well as identify how long you’ve felt like this. You might also want to speak to your manager about what changes can be made to make your role more stimulating for you. Think about which tasks make you feel bored, and what new responsibilities might interest you.
It’s also helpful to prioritize finding the right work/life balance. If you’re working from home, as many of us are, it can be easy to lose motivation; without interaction with colleagues or proper breaks the days can fade into one, and the lines between our professional and personal lives can blur. Making sure you take proper breaks and enjoy your leisure time can make it easier for you to focus when you’re in work mode, which can help you feel more engaged and boost productivity.
Finally, it’s important to take some time to think about your purpose and what motivates you. When you’re feeling bored and disconnected it’s easy to lose sight of your goals and sense of self, which can exacerbate feelings of boreout. Think about what activities make you feel good about yourself, or which activities excite you, and make sure you have enough time to do them.
These things don’t have to be related to work—it could be creative writing, making an exercise goal, or learning a new skill. When you’re experiencing boreout, it’s likely you won’t feel that motivated to achieve your goals, so take some time to think about what you actually want to accomplish. Feeling fulfilled outside of work can boost your mood and help you feel productive and motivated, which can then trickle down how you feel about your work.
There’s not usually any quick fix for boreout; it’s often a case of trial and error, where you make changes in your life and see what works for you. Boreout can be an extremely difficult experience, so it’s important to be kind and not to put too much pressure on yourself. Ultimately, boreout can sometimes mark a transition into an exciting new beginning—whether that’s a new career, a new role, or even just a new approach to your work/life balance.