Could boredom be as severe as burnout?
Are you watching the clock, wishing 5 pm would hurry up and come around? Or are spending your days dreaming of winning the lotto? Does work feel like an endless round of tedious tasks and meetings that you would like to escape?
We’re quite rightly having the dialogue about stress and burnout because of their impact on individuals and society at large. However, what about the implications of being bored for the person and its effect on the organization?
Given a choice, quite a few of us would rather be busy doing fulfilling, rewarding work. And not spend our days feeling mind-numbingly bored. Feeling neither mentally or emotionally engaged, Longing for home time. We want to be motivated.
Why being bored impacts our mental wellbeing
Boredom isn’t just bad for the sufferers. It can lead to significant issues that affect entire teams and even the whole company. Studies have shown that feeling bored can lead to disengagement and withdrawal. It can create a negativity that can spread to other team members and even intentional failure of projects. All of which can contribute to lower productivity.
Moreover, boredom affects substantial numbers of employees. In a 2015 study, up to 70% of US employees claimed to be bored and disengaged at work. Another global study recently suggested that only 15% of employees were genuinely engaged in their jobs. And that a considerable number actively disliked their role. While the rest just turned up, did their work in return for the monthly paycheck. This is especially true for office- based roles.
Research on stress shows that there is for each of us an optimal stress level, so-called ‘eustress,’ where we can perform at our peak. It’s when our goals stretch our capabilities slightly. However, if the goals are set too high, we can feel stressed and overwhelmed. If set too low and we have not challenged enough boredom can set in, and we lose motivation. In fact, too little stress and a lack of meaningful work can lead to apathy. It can lead to lack of sleep because we’re not feeling tired out the end of the day. And even depression can set in.
Boredom and our sense of self-worth
The happiest and most productive employees feel they have the choice over their work and feel valued. Where we may feel we have less control to address the boredom, it can lead us to feel powerless or helpless.
Much of our self-worth today is tied up with our jobs. And even though the tide is turning, being busy still is a badge of honor for many people. So, having too little work can harm our self-perception and our sense of self-worth. It can leave us questioning our value to the company and even set in motion of patterns of negative thoughts. For example, Are they trying to ease me out? Does my boss think I’m useless? “I’m not good at anything.” These types of negative thinking patterns can be lead to feelings of stress, anxiety or even depression.
How boredom affect us?
Being underemployed can lead to feelings of guilt that others are overloaded while you’re twiddling your thumbs. Moreover, there may even be fear of speaking up as that could lead to being made redundant or becoming overloaded and unable to cope. So many people just put up with boredom rather than risk losing their jobs. Or having their workload bumped up leading to added stress. Employees can even become quite adept at hiding their boredom. Sitting behind their computers with same file open for hours. Spreading papers all over their desks or accepting a myriad of meeting requests. There have been anecdotal reports of employees taking paperwork home to give the impression that they are busy. So many tactics to appear productive and useful.
Who should take steps to break the boredom?
Responsibility for changing this situation lies both with the individual and the organization. For the individual, the critical factor is to regain a measure control over their work. It’s often the feeling of helplessness that leads to the negative attitudes and behaviors. Leaders have the responsibility to ensure that individuals feel motivated at work and that the workload is evenly distributed across team members.
Steps to help break the adverse effects of boredom
Here are some measures to that can break the boredom:
- Are you working to full capacity in your current role? Are you update to date with everything? If you’ve been in your current position for a while, it’s easy to be complacent and do the same thing over and over. Do a thorough review of your current role, your KPI’s for the year. And how well you’re meeting your targets (weekly, monthly, quarterly) before considering doing anything else.
- If you work in an organization where there are training opportunities, then this is a great way to break out of boredom. Learning new work-related skills should motivate you out of your lethargy and apathy. It is also worth examining these as they could be a path to being able to take more responsibility or gaining a new role within the organization. If you work for a smaller company with less internal training opportunities, then looking for external courses is a route forward. You may be able to get financial support from your company or another training body.
- You could approach your manager and ask whether you could contribute to another project. Or consider shadowing a colleague or gain experience in another department. Always present these as you wishing to develop your skills and competencies so that you can contribute more fully to the organization.
Remember you are in control
Taking proactive steps to reducing boredom will lead to you feeling more in control of your career. However, if you are always bored at work and there is nothing to occupy your hours, it may be time to start looking for a job that better uses your skills. However, if it is difficult to find a new role then consider career coaching. This can help you develop a clear vision for your future and scope out concrete steps to take you there. And even taking up new interests that help you develop a more positive mindset. And if you choose to make not to make any changes to your current situation, then do it mindfully.
Although I hate the over-busy always-on culture, I firmly believe that boredom is just as detrimental to our mental wellbeing. It is true that leaders are more empathetic if you are overwhelmed. But when you’re bored, it’s harder to voice your concerns without making your role look redundant. However, it is time to address this issue of boredom and disengagement within organizations to ensure employees are not only productive but also creative and genuinely happier.
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