On parle souvent de burn-out, mais peu de « bore-out ». Quand on m’a fait lire cet article sur l’ennui mortel au travail, me sont revenus en mémoire le cas de personnes qui en ont été victimes. C’est effectivement une vraie préoccupation. Un homme se plaignant de ce syndrome vient d’attaquer son entreprise aux prud’hommes. Ce procès est une première en France.

By Manuela Tiberio.

15% of office workers are bored. Contrary to the better-known phenomenon of “burn-out”, where employees are under so much pressure that they are barely able to function, bored employees are feeling the stress of having not enough to do! Bore-out is a term coined by Peter Werder and Philippe Rothlin, to define a lack of work, boredom, and consequent lack of satisfaction in one’s job. Equally dangerous as burn-out, employees don’t feel overworked but, on the contrary, are almost literally bored to death. They lack intellectual and creative stimulation which can have a paralysing effect not only on their career, but also in their personal life.  By feeling constantly exhausted, not finding any gratification in their job, and being stuck in a rut of a routine, they ultimately risk collapse. The consequences are the same of a burn-out, suffering (albeit approaching it from a different direction) until severe depression kicks in.

But for the victims of bore-out, it is difficult to identify the problem and talk about it: there is a big stigma attached to admitting to yourself – and others – that you are being paid for being bored at work.  Because of this shame, paradoxically, people suffering from bore-out often paint a picture of being very busy; for example having piles of folders on their desk or numerous documents open on their desktop, which gives the impression to colleagues and management that this person probably doesn’t need more projects or tasks to work on.  In the article “Bored to Death” published in The International Journal of Epidemiology (A. Britton & M.J. Shipley), research shows that people who are bored at work are almost three times more likely to develop cardiovascular diseases.  Confronted with boredom, bad habits can quickly take the place of work: continuous snacking, more smoking breaks and sometimes even alcohol abuse at work.

The responsibility doesn’t always lie with the employee. They cannot be held completely accountable for the constant boredom they find themselves faced by; there is also a certain responsibility resting at management level to identify the general malaise of an employee with bore-out and making sure they again become stimulated and finding satisfaction in their job.  However, in reality, often there is not enough delegation from above, or managers are less-than-forthcoming with new challenges and projects for their team.  Particularly in the public sector in Europe, due to it being virtually impossible to make redundancies, even if jobs are not relevant anymore, there is a real problem in finding fulfilling tasks for civil servants.

So what can you do to guard against bore-out?

The first thing to look at would be to develop your assertiveness. Generally a lot of people who suffer from bore-out do not have the boldest personality, and therefore they not only don’t actively pursue what they want, but also don’t take the time to identify precisely what it is they want and what actions they need to take in order to get them there. They are stuck in a job that does not appreciate them and keeps them locked in a golden cage.  If you want to do something to change your seemingly hopeless situation, you need to stand up for yourself and realise what you are worth.  Do you want another assignment?  Career progression? Maybe some training? You need to have the courage to bring that to the attention of your manager and openly discuss your lack of workload before it goes too far to recover.

If you have exhausted all of these possibilities, the next option could then be to find a new job as soon as possible. If it is the content of your tasks or the behaviour of a manager that is causing the issue, then a good way to solve the problem could be to close the door behind you as you leave it behind.

Manuela Tiberio is a Senior Consultant.