According to a recent global survey the overall European average for
employees who feel stressed stands at 27%.
Of interest to us in this book are the remaining 73% – all those employees
who place themselves between ‘stress level just right’ and ‘understretched’. So,
it’s not about stress, but rather about the opposite – it’s not about burnout,
In Boreout!, the authors describe its meaning, its causes, its
symptoms and provides strategies for employers and affected employees to tackle
this potentially lethal problem.
What’s boreout? Boreout, a growing workplace phenomenon, appears when
disengaged employees grow increasingly indifferent to their job and ultimately
feel cut off from their company and its interests.
Common causes include feeling understretched and unsatisfied with the job and
a lack of commitment. When the employee has to perform many mindless tasks, he
easily becomes detached from his work and colleagues. Bored employees take
refuge in their own world. They plan their next holiday, the weekend shopping
trip and their future life during working hours.
Some symptoms to look out for are constant tiredeness, exaggerated
irritability, listlessness and increasingly marked introversion.
Both employers and employees must be on the lookout for symptoms of boreout
and, if spotted, act quickly as it can have dire consequences for the firm and
the affected worker.
The causes of boreout
Boreout, as the opposite of burnout, consists of three elements: being
understretched, uncommitted and bored in the workplace.
Associated with these are long-term strategies of behaviour that the employee
adopts in order to appear overloaded and so keep work at arm’s length.
When we discuss boreout with others, we are told again and again that the
only people affected by it are those who believe they have a right to expect
whatever they want from their job and who start to question the meaning of their
This is not true. In principle, boreout has nothing to do with whether people
are looking for a sense of meaning and fun in their job or not.
The wrong career choice
Have you seen the film The Incredibles? It is the story of a superhero family
with extra-sensory powers. However, these are precisely the abilities they may
not use. Instead they have to integrate into everyday work as a normal family –
which, of course, backfires.
The prime example is Mr Incredible. Horribly bored, he has to handle his
clients’ insurance cases. And, at least at the beginning of the film, he can no
longer do what he actually wants to do, which is to act as a superhero.
Many employees today are in the same situation as Mr Incredible: caught in a
sense that they have no commitment to what they do or have to do. But why is
People often choose careers very different from the ones they would actually
like to follow. They choose the wrong options and their problems grow from that
As suggested above, parents can influence their children’s choice of career.
There is also pressure from social standards and expectations. If such pressures
lead people to choose the wrong course, boredom, under-stretching and lack of
commitment are the likely results. And then it becomes more and more difficult
to find a way out of the boreout mess.
The wrong location
Let us vary our scenario and suppose that a young lawyer let herself get
seduced into a position in a traditional chambers with for-malised relationships
and routines, which is the wrong place for her to be. Always the same cases,
combined with a dusty, poisonous climate of competition, which makes the work
seem senseless to her. Perhaps she would have been happier in a not-for-profit
organization. In any case, in this particular chambers she is definitely in the
Better alternatives to work
Continuing to muddle along also seems a reasonable option because there are
countless alternatives to actual work in the workplace, alternatives that take
our minds off the actual work and make it seem less and less important. The
information that can be accessed on the internet becomes more interesting than
the boss’s drivel, it becomes more and more diverting to send private emails
through the business net or to use the unoccupied time to take care of personal
Isn’t this Normal?
Now you are probably saying that some of these things are quite normal. And
here we actually agree with you. What is so insidious about the whole thing is
precisely that the causes come on so normally. Wrong choice of degree, wrong
choice of job, absence of challenge, personal internet connection – all quite
As we said, boreout does not announce itself with drums and trumpets. The
causes are everyday stories. Boreout does not need a scandal, a catastrophe or a
ruined career. On the contrary, often everything goes well and according to
plan. Only when all the elements are combined, only when conditions become
utterly unsatisfactory in themselves and for the sufferer does boreout arise.
And that too is quite normal. You will also know of countless examples, from
your own surroundings, that appear to you to be totally mundane. Everything is
normal – but nevertheless bad. And fatal in its consequences. That is why the
diagnosis of boreout is so important, as only when it is recognized does it
become possible to make changes – and make things better.
Philippe Rothlin and Peter Werder are
the authors of Boreout! Overcoming Workplace Demotivation published by Kogan
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