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What to do about the debilitating effects of chronic boredom at work

While burnout is boredom linked to long hours, poor work-life balance, and overwork, ‘boreout’ happens when we are bored by our work to the point that we feel it is totally meaningless

Workers who realize they’re experiencing boreout may continue working the same way in the same job Focusing on a task can help workers forget about the time, and reduce boredom Studies show depression from boreout can follow workers outside the office

While burnout is boredom linked to long hours, poor work-life balance, and overwork, ‘boreout’ happens when we are bored by our work to the point that we feel it is totally meaningless. Our job seems pointless, and our tasks devoid of value. It’s chronic boredom.

Studies show that employees are bored roughly 10.5 hours of the workweek. Reports from Glassdoor say 1/4th of office workers suffer from chronic boredom that can cause them to make mistakes and lose concentration. 

When bottom lines are affected by boredom, it benefits both employers and employees to find ways to make the workday more engaging.

Factors leading to boreout

A number of factors can cause chronic boredom, including working in a demoralizing physical environment like a cubicle farm or feeling under-challenged over a prolonged period. 

Ruth Stock-Homburg, a professor of management and human resources management at the Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany, has identified three main aspects of the boreout phenomenon: “being terribly bored, having a crisis of growth and having a crisis of meaning.”

“Boreout is different from burnout in the sense that bored-out employees rarely collapse out of exhaustion. Bored-out people may be present physically but not in spirit, and people can keep doing this for a good while,” says Harju.

Workers who realize they’re experiencing boreout may continue working the same way in the same job.

Boreout staff members may also be reluctant to flag it up as an issue to line managers or human resources as it reflects a lack of interest and motivation. 

People with boreout symptoms will just show up at their desks and spend time shopping online, cyberloafing, chatting with colleagues, or planning other activities in an effort to cope.

How to deal with boreout

There are a few simple steps to deal with this phenomenon.

1. Focus on tasks and not time

Waiting around for a fixed time to do something or leave for the day can adversely affect productivity. Setting goals that focus on tasks rather than a particular time can lead to more animation and productivity.  Focusing on a task can help workers forget about the time, and reduce boredom in the process.

2. Change your commute

Find different ways to work, even if it means leaving a bit earlier to avoid traffic. Changing the scenery each day may help alleviate boredom before it begins in the workplace.

3. Modify workspaces

A simple seat location change that offers a fresh view may fend off boredom. If a move isn’t possible, redecorate the office or cubicle.     

4. Ask for a challenging project

Ask the boss for more diversified tasks or volunteer to be part of a project that interests you, even if it’s outside of your wheelhouse.

5. Take meaningful breaks 

Spend your breaks doing something you really enjoy, like reading a favorite book, exercising, or going for a walk. These activities can allow you to channel your emotions into an object or process and relieve the stress caused by boreout. 

Impact of boreout on body and mind

A study involving more than 11,000 workers at 87 Finnish organizations found that chronic boredom “increased the likelihood of employees’ turnover and early retirement intentions, poor self-rated health and stress symptoms.”

A 2021 study showed that 186 government workers in Turkey who suffered from boreout also dealt with depression and high rates of stress and anxiety

Studies show depression from boreout can follow workers outside the office, and lead to physical ailments from insomnia to headaches.

When we’re burned out, our amygdala, the brain’s danger detection system, might “hijack” our frontal lobes, said Leah Weiss, a mindfulness expert. 

This can trigger a fight-or-flight response, which makes it difficult to think clearly, draw conclusions and recall memories.

They can also be linked to hormonal imbalance, hair loss, stomach problems, and sleep disruption, Weiss said. People suffering from it commonly report headaches, muscle aches, and listlessness.

In 2017, a research article in the journal PLOS One examined the physical, psychological, and occupational consequences of job burnout. The authors reviewed 61 prospective studies and found associations between burnout and serious health problems such as increased alcohol consumption, coronary heart disease, depression, sedentary behavior, obesity, and musculoskeletal pain.