What is boreout, and how do you fix it?

Man at work with head in hands, having a mini-breakdown

What is boreout, and how do you fix it?

When you work in the office, you know not every day of work will be exciting. So, you accept the ebb and flow between the stimulating and the not-so-thrilling.

But what happens when you’re perpetually bored by your work? How do you cope when you feel exhausted just battling with your own lack of motivation?

If you regularly struggle through your work day, unable to find enthusiasm but still ending the day tired, you may be experiencing boreout.

Let’s take a look at what boreout is, how it could impact you, and how to tackle it.

What is ‘boreout’?

Boreout is the experience of being chronically bored. You’ll likely have heard of burnout; this phenomenon is similar but has some key differences.

When you’re bored-out, you’re likely understimulated by your work and feel bored as a result. The primary cause of boreout is repeatedly completing tasks you consider to be pointless or meaningless. When you can’t find value in your work, it's easy to see your efforts as wasted, making it difficult to find motivation day-to-day.

While boreout is nothing new, research has recently revealed that it’s incredibly prevalent. One French study suggests the number of bored-out employees could be as high as 60%.

Boreout vs. burnout

Whereas boreout is caused by chronic boredom, burnout is caused by chronic overworking. Burnout typically occurs when employees work extra hours, take on additional responsibilities, or have a poor work-life balance due to the glamorization of overworking. 

This additional effort is rarely acknowledged or rewarded but can become expected, leading employees to fall unwell, mentally or physically.

Signs that you’re experiencing boreout vs. burnout

Here are some tell-tale signs that you may be bored-out:

  • Anxiety: High levels of anxiety and stress are frequently associated with boreout. Leaving tasks to the last minute and then panicking before a deadline, being fearful of bringing your concerns to your manager’s attention, or feeling you aren’t working hard enough are all triggers for anxiety.

    While it can be easy to confuse boreout with boredom caused by a lack of work, they’re not one and the same. Bored-out workers may still be working at full capacity, but struggling to find meaning in their work all the same.

  • Sadness or depression: Everyone wants to feel their contributions are valuable; it’s saddening to know your work is seen as meaningless or pointless.

    Likewise, if you were previously highly driven, it can be upsetting to become suddenly unmotivated at work. Unsurprisingly, a 2021 study conducted in Turkey revealed that workers who experience boreout also struggle with depression and anxiety.

  • Procrastination: If you frequently procrastinate — putting off important tasks in favor of other instantly-rewarding activities — it could be because of boreout.

Procrastination is often tied to a lack of motivation, which we know is a cause of boreout. Bored workers often fall into cyberloafing behavior, scrolling through social media or online shopping, as a coping mechanism, meaning that while they’re physically at their desks, they’re not engaged with work. This is especially easy in the age of remote working.

  • Headaches: The impact of boreout goes beyond behavioral, resulting in physical symptoms. An increase in headaches should always be discussed with a doctor, and other concerning physical symptoms can include insomnia and a weakened immune system.

Don’t relate to these feelings? This is how you can identify burnout:

  • Anxiety and overwhelm: Anxiety and overwhelm go hand in hand. When a person is anxious, they tend to overthink and find situations — that they would usually be able to handle — overwhelming.
    A surefire way to heighten your anxiety is to overwhelm yourself with work due to a lack of boundaries. This is one of the most common reasons workers are burnt out.
  • Inability to switch off: While some can close their computer at 5pm sharp and forget about work until the next morning, people struggling with burnout often do the opposite. If you find it difficult to disengage from work, you may find yourself wanting to check your email out of hours, or spending your free time thinking about outstanding tasks, rather than focusing on enjoying your hobbies.
  • Exhaustion: Feeling tired constantly is a common sign of burnout. As burnt-out workers struggle to relax in their downtime and overburden themselves at work, it’s no surprise they begin to experience physical and mental exhaustion.
  • Trouble sleeping: Although you may be experiencing exhaustion, burnout can lead to insomnia. Running through to-do lists in your head for fear of missing something or replaying the day's events can keep you up at night, further perpetuating the cycle of exhaustion.

So, what should you do when dealing with boreout at work?

The rise of 'quiet quitting'

One of the main causes of anxiety associated with boreout is a fear that we’re not doing enough. A common reaction to these feelings has been to embrace ‘quiet quitting’.

But what is quiet quitting your job? The concept of quiet quitting is not new, but it’s recently had a resurgence on the social media platform TikTok due to the high number of Gen Z employees entering the workforce.

The idea behind quite quitting is that your life shouldn’t revolve around your work. That means not going above and beyond to win the approval of others, and not completing additional tasks that you aren’t receiving remuneration for. Quiet quitting has nothing to do with quitting your job. Instead, you only do the work necessary to do your job successfully, often what’s listed in your job description.

For many people this approach allows a short-term relief from the effects of burnout and boreout. Doing enough to get by but not going any further. In the long-term though it's probably not a viable solution. If you're feeling checked out enough to 'quiet quit' then chances are you are ready for a new job.

Talk to your manager

If you’re wondering how to not be bored at work, the simplest route is to make work more interesting. But you can’t do that alone.

The responsibility for keeping workers engaged sits with employers. A recent study showed that team engagement is heavily influenced by an employee’s relationship with their manager, contributing to 70% of the variance in team engagement.

From not generating enough challenging work for their employees to not making it clear how each individual’s daily output feeds into the business’s wider success, there are many ways managers contribute to their team’s boreout.

If you’re bored-out, it’s important to be open about this and discuss it with your manager. While being transparent for fear you’ll be branded lazy can feel scary, nothing will change if you can’t be honest. There are many ways managers can help combat boreout, from making changes to employees’ roles by allocating them more interesting tasks to bringing in a consultant to review the business’s engagement and career development frameworks.

When you feel your work has no purpose, your manager is the best person to talk to. Chances are, many of your colleagues are feeling the same way, and your manager has no idea. Bringing the issue to their attention is the first step in finding a solution that benefits everyone.

Seek purpose in your work

Boreout can occur in any type of workplace. Yet, it most frequently rears its ugly head in businesses where employees complete repetitive tasks with little room for creativity or variation. This is exacerbated by endless meetings or Zoom calls that starve workers of stimulation.

Even if you’re incredibly busy and stressed, you can still experience boreout. One way to challenge this is to seek purpose. You started on this career path for a reason, so engaging with what inspired you to take your job could be helpful. A 2016 study showed that boreout workers are less likely to engage in constructive activities which could help them embrace new challenges. We recommend that you buck that trend.

Even the most tedious of tasks feed into a bigger, more complicated picture. The truth is that your work does matter, but it can be easy to feel like it doesn’t when you can’t see the direct impact it’s having — or when leadership doesn’t prioritize making their staff feel valued.

Reconsider your career

Sometimes, a drastic change is the only option, though this decision should not be taken lightly. Changing jobs or even career paths can be daunting at the best of times. As many countries are experiencing an economic downturn, the safest option is often to stay in a secure job. 

That being said, if your experience with boreout is impacting your physical or mental health, the best course of action may be to reconsider your situation of employment. Finding a job that reignites your enthusiasm and is ultimately healthier for you may not be easy, but it’s worth it in the long run. Talk to friends, family, and career counselors about your concerns and desires and listen to their advice. You never know what opportunities may come your way.

How can Forecast help your team tackle boreout?

Understanding how your daily output feeds into the business’s overall goals is critical to beating boreout. Project management tools like Forecast can be valuable for mapping out dependencies across the organization, revealing the true impact of your work.

If you manage a team, tracking project progress is a great way to improve motivation, as is creating interesting goals for your team members to work towards. Lastly, always be transparent about the true value they hold for the team and the business.

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