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Jacquie Bhana - Boredom at work can be more dangerous than burnout

Are you bored out of your mind at work?
Is spending the better part of your waking hours just not inspiring you? There can be nothing more soul destroying than feeling absolutely bored at work. I am not talking about exhilaration every minute of the day, because there are aspects of work that are routine.

At work, boredom has a bad reputation, mostly due to its connection with poor behaviours including ‘cyberloafing’ (non-work related internet browsing, including watching movies, staying active on social media), using company wifi systems – through to chronic fatigue. Some have also suggested that due to its known negative impact on productivity, being bored at work can be even more dangerous than burnout and has been found to be one of the top reasons people look for a new job. Boredom is the feeling of being uninterested in what you are doing, or some call it ‘mentally idle’.

We generally tend to be more familiar with the concept of burnout, which is a state of mental and physical exhaustion caused by one’s professional life. Burnout is known to be a result of chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.

In spite of the aforementioned, there is another concept beyond boredom, called ‘boreout’ at work,
which is chronic boredom and studies have shown that it can cause depression, anxiety, stress,
insomnia and higher turnover, and is likened to burnout and workaholisam. Boreout is an emotional state characterised by feeling unstimulated, unfocused and restless, to the point where people feel that work has absolutely no meaning.

Two Sides to the Problem
If you are feeling any of these conditions, i.e. boredom, burnout or boreout, do you expect your company or your manager to give you work that is fulfilling OR do you feel that YOU need to change
the way you operate?

What if you are the manager, and you are faced with a number of employees who just don’t feel
that their work is inspiring? How do you deal with a world of work that needs to change and even you are not prepared for this?

So, there are two sides to this problem – one is the manager’s challenge, and one is the employee’s challenge.
Following the Covid 19 epidemic, employee burnout has become top of mind for employers on the heels of the great resignation or great reshuffle, or changed working arrangements. Recent research reports indicate high levels of burnout and distress amongst employees, with 74% of human resource leaders in the United States committing to make mental health a top priority. Back home in South Africa, mental health has also become centre stage for businesses. But what if burnout isn’t the top problem at work we should be worrying about? What if it is burnout’s opposite state – boredom or boreout, that’s the real threat to wellbeing?

Boredom is brought on by a combination of factors including a lack of stimulation, i.e. we find our work uninteresting and unengaging. Or perhaps people don’t have enough work to do – too much leisure time can also bring on boredom. It’s also compounded by a mismatch between expectations and reality. Expectations have grown that life would be, at least some of the time, amusing and interesting – and so did the disappointment when they weren’t.

It’s time for ‘boreout’ to join the workplace mental health conversation in much the same way burnout, presentism, and work/life balance have become primary topics.

So how can we combat boredom at work – both for the benefit of the company and the employee?
Even if an employee’s role doesn’t directly save lives or change the world, they need to feel that their work has a purpose aligned with their values and skills. Leaders should also spot opportunities
to create more challenging work to increase mental engagement. This can take the form of joining new committees or task forces or perhaps being asked to help solve a complex problem someone would otherwise not be involved in.

Break Up Tedious Tasks
Tasks do not have to be completed all in one sitting. Scheduling tedious tasks for a few hours in the morning, and then returning to finish the tedious tasks at the end of the day can help break up the boredom.

Cultivate psychological safety so employees can speak up – encourage people to have difficult

Admitting you’re bored or unengaged at work is taboo in many organisations, but it shouldn’t be. Instead, speaking up signals to managers that someone is unhappy or under-utilised, and gives them time to correct. Managers can help identify new areas within the business for someone to support
or other novel experiences to provide a change. They can also encourage employees to pursue
outside interests that benefit both employee and employer, such as mentoring, public speaking, or
taking on a new course.

Encourage Job Sharing or Job Crafting
One quick fix is taking on more varied tasks, and a way to do that is via job sharing or job crafting. Job crafting, is when someone proactively redesigns their job to better align with their interests, while still ensuring the fundamental requirements of the role are still performed. For example, someone interested in developing their programming skills could increase the amount of time they work with online applications. Job sharing is when two people share the same job within a company, working on a part-time basis. Someone looking to combat boredom at work could theoretically work two different jobs on a part-time basis to introduce more novelty and taskswitching into their day.

Another fix is to set aside time on the clock for passion projects. Google is probably the most
well-known company that does this, with their philosophy that employees should set aside 20%
of their time to explore or work on innovative projects.

Mental Health Support
Addressing and nurturing mental health can be the antidote to issues of stress, monotony and
eventual burnout.

This is a topic that is not explored well enough in our organisations and yet would go a long way
to increasing productivity and employee wellbeing.

If you need any assistance with these very real challenges, feel free to contact Jacquie who has had good success with coaching and mentoring employees and managers.

Contact Jacquie Bhana if you would like coaching to become a high-performance employee and leader of a high performance team.

C: +27 83 386 8343

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