Have you ever wondered why some people at work feel overwhelmed and tired even though they are not burdened by a heavy workload, stiff deadlines, or unusual circumstances at home?
The reason could be that they are suffering from boreout.
Udemy’s 2016 study on workplace boredom revealed that 43% of office-goers in the US were bored at work – and the situation hasn’t changed, as studies by Capterra and Gallup in 2021 reveal. Boredom is far more damaging than we realize – academics and researchers who have been studying this issue across industries believe boredom is leading to boreout, which is very similar to burnout.
According to Pablo Vandenabeele, clinical director for mental health at Bupa UK, feelings of being overwhelmed, exhausted, or under pressure are generally associated with burnout. But they’re also tell-tale signs of boreout, the condition resulting from feeling underworked or unchallenged at work.
The symptoms of boreout are very similar to burnout, but when we investigate it further, we understand that the underlying cause might be boredom from routine and unchallenging work. Steve Savels, psychologist and coach, recalls going through boreout in a previous job, where the role was very different from what he had expected, and comprised mostly routine work. It almost drove him to depression, he reveals. Perhaps fans of the series “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” have seen an example of boreout on screen, in the personality of Gina. She often reveals an astute mind capable of great foresight but is mostly content to sit back and focus on her dance troupe while at work and finally leaves the job to pursue a role that is more suited to her untapped skills.
Once the signs of burnout have been recognized, the next step is, of course, to identify how the employees can be re-engaged so that their morale, well-being, and productivity can be improved. Let’s see how to do this.
Find their motivating factor
“What motivates you?” might sound like a question out of a job interview, but the fact is, it is a relevant question that helps a manager understand what makes a team member want to come to work every day. For some, it might be the excitement of finishing a project or mastering a skill, for others, it’s the joy of interacting with their peers and supporting them at work, and for many others, it’s the sense of prestige, influence, and impact that comes from their role. Psychologist David McLelland identified these as the need for achievement, affiliation, and power, respectively. Once you have identified what drives your team member, you can help to recraft his role to better suit his basic motivation and feel more engaged at work.
Understand their strengths
Understanding motivation, or the “why” that pushes you to do things, is essential, but understanding strengths, or the “how” that helps you go after what you want, is equally important too. The Gallup CliftonStrengths is one way to find out the underlying strengths and talent that enable your team members to grow and contribute to the organization. It helps you understand the potential they have to collaborate with the rest of the team when it comes to achieving targets or completing a task together. Getting this part right can help the employees boost their morale and find meaning to what they do, while also doing what brings them more energy and positivity.
Help them learn something new
Many employees feel bored at work because they find a role unchallenging or too routine. The corollary to this is that the exciting or challenging work within the organization might be beyond their reach, often because they lack the required skills or experience. Help your team members address this by upskilling themselves – they could enroll in a course that helps them get more exciting projects, or join a shadowing, mentorship, or apprenticeship program within the organization. By bringing these opportunities within their reach and supporting them as they pivot towards a new role, you can help them out of boreout.
A primary reason why boreout is not so easy to identify and correct is that many employees feel reluctant to admit that they are unchallenged or under-challenged. They may think that this is just a lull before a period of heavy and fruitful activity, or they may fear being considered lazy, or they may be reluctant to seem like they are blaming the organization or the team. Alleviate these concerns by making it clear that they can be open about their feelings and that you would do what you can to address them and make their role more enjoyable and engaging.
Finally, help them practice self-kindness along the way – the journey out of a crisis like boreout can be long and arduous, and every victory matters.