I think by now we’ve all heard of a burn-out: working so hard or having so much work that it stresses you out completely until you get a mental breakdown, become inexplicably tired and/or have a massive lack of motivation. You probably know someone who’s experienced this, or maybe you’ve experienced it yourself.
On the other side of the spectrum is the bore out, its much lesser-known counterpart. The term was first introduced in 2007 by 2 Swiss business consultants.
A bore out seems similar to a burn out from the outside but is really the complete opposite.
Where you get a burn out from work overload, a bore out can occur when you have work under load.
This can either be because there is not enough work to keep you busy, or the tasks are too easy for you.
It seems strange to be stressed out to the point of a mental breakdown, but it’s very real. Trust me, I’ve had one.
Boreout is much more common than it seems but goes undetected for two reasons.
First, because the symptoms seem so much like burn out.
There is insomnia, the stressed-out feelings, the physical complaints and the fatigue. On paper, they seem the same. The big difference is the cause, but as we usually tend to look at the symptoms, we don’t ask too many questions about the cause.
Second, because it is taboo to admit you don’t have (a lot of) work to do.
We live in a time of busy people, hustling, 24/7, non-stop go go go.
It feels almost impossible to explain that you actually don’t have work to do, let alone saying that you’re bored. You’re at work all day, but there isn’t nearly enough work to fill your day. Or there is enough work, but it is not mentally challenging. It is scary to go to your superior and talk about it because that’s basically admitting you’re not doing anything. This induces more fear of being caught and fired, so people don’t say anything and pretend to work all day, causing even more stress.
What causes a bore out
The cause of a bore out is really very simple: being too stressed out because of a lack of (engaging) work.
According to Werder and Rothlin, the swiss business consultants, there are three components to a bore out:
- Lack of challenge
- Lack of interest
In my experience, these three are interconnected, strengthening each other and pushing you further down the bore out rabbit hole.
Chances of getting a bore out are also higher when you have lower self-esteem or underestimate yourself, thereby taking on less work or easier jobs than you should, which leads to no challenge and being bored.
Other causes of boredom can be too much routine and too many procedures, little freedom or autonomy, fear of failure or dissatisfaction.
What are symptoms of a bore out
- Lower immune system due to stress, therefore higher risk of infections
- Stomach pains
- Loss of self-esteem
- Lack of motivation
- A feeling of uselessness
- Higher risk of heart disease (*)
In extreme cases, these symptoms can lead to suicidal thoughts.
How to recognize bore out
It is crucial to recognize bore out as soon as possible, as the longer it lasts, the more damage it can do. Here are a couple of questions
- Consider the above symptoms, and see if they are similar to what you’re experiencing
- Consider whether you are too busy or not busy enough at work
- Are you mentally stimulated/challenged enough at work?
- Are you procrastinating the work you have?
- Are you pretending to work most of the day?
- When your colleagues ask you if you’re busy, does it make you feel uncomfortable or stressed? Do you feel like you have to lie?
What to do if you have a bore out
Consider your options, and choose the one you think is the best for you.
The most important thing is to recognize it and to start doing something about it.
The worst thing you can do here is to get stuck in your head and your thoughts, as that will likely make you even more stressed out.
Then, the next step is to figure out what about your job is causing your boredom.
- Are you overqualified?
- Does your job not interest you?
- Does your job fulfil your needs?
- Do you feel like you’re contributing something?
- Do you feel like you have enough work to do
If possible, take a couple of days off to get some distance. Make a list of what you like, and don’t like about your job, like a pro/con list.
This is also important if you want to talk to your superior to find a solution, or if you’re going to apply for different jobs. Knowing what you do and don’t like is really important and will help you in the future.
From here, you have several options.
Talk to your superior.
In my opinion, this is the best solution, but it is also scary. However, if you like the company and your colleagues, you should try to find a solution first.
Perhaps you can take on more responsibilities, or implement some learning into your daily tasks. You might even be able to get on a learning track towards a promotion.
This will give you something to do, but also give you better skills for the future.
Find a different job
The other logical solution. If you don’t really like the company you’re working at or don’t like your colleagues. If the talk with your superior has led to nothing.
Find another job.
Don’t sit around waiting for things to get better because most likely, they won’t. It’s up to you to make things better now.
Try to find more (challenging) tasks on your own.
If you’re really scared to talk to your employer, you can figure out more things to do by yourself.
Are there any processes that can be improved upon? Do your colleagues need help? Are there any skills you’d like to improve or learn?
These are productive ways to keep you occupied when you don’t have anything to do. However, this is not the ideal long-term solution.
Get psychological help if you can
Maybe you’re really scared to talk to your supervisor, or you’re having a lot of mental/physical problems from your bore out.
Talk to your GP or a psychologist. See what they say, and if they can help you.
If not, find someone who can. If you are experiencing symptoms, it is important that you find some help to get healthy as soon as possible.
Fill your free time with fun things.
Make sure that whenever you’re not at work, you’re really enjoying yourself. Spend time with friends or family, or do something mentally stimulating.
Stick it out a bit longer.
Worst idea ever, don’t do this. Get off your butt and do something about this.
How to prevent a bore out
Ask more questions during job interviews
I think a big thing we tend to forget is that a job interview goes both ways.
We’re always trying really hard to make sure we seem right for the job, that we forget that it is also an opportunity to see whether the job seems right for us.
Ask questions, make sure the company fits your ideas, ideals and values. Take notes. Some questions I have learned to ask the interviewers are:
- Let’s say I’m still working here in 3 years. Where would you like me to be by then?
- What are the learning opportunities in this position?
- Why did you decide to work here, is that still something you enjoy, and what do you enjoy most now?
- What happens if I don’t have enough work?
- What would my day look like?
- What are my main activities and responsibilities?
My brother’s girlfriend really enjoyed her job, but was approached by another company. They were willing to pay her more and give her a car, so she agreed to go in for the interview. I told her to ask the first question, where they thought she’d be in 3 years.
When she came back she told me that was the best question, as it turned out they wanted to just keep her in the position she was applying for, and there was no future in that position at all. She’d probably be stuck in that position for as long as she stayed with the company.
Make sure your free time is stimulating
As I mentioned before, it is important to make sure you’re filling your free time with things you enjoy. This may not be possible for everyone but try.
Even if you can only have an hour a week to yourself, make sure you fill it with something that brings you joy.
Ask for development opportunities in your job
You don’t have to get to the point of a boreout to ask for more responsibilities or more different tasks. If you’re feeling like you’re not learning enough, could do more or your potential is not being used, ask your supervisor to sit down with you and look at the situation. Maybe you can have some new tasks, or there is something you can learn in your extra time.
Well that is quite a lot of information.
I really hope I’ve been able to help you understand the bore out a bit more.
At least now you know what causes a bore out, the symptoms, and what to do if you think you have one.
It is so important to take charge of this, as it impacts both your mental and physical health.
It may be hard to recognize, but it’s even more difficult to get out of one.
Try to talk to your supervisor, manager or whoever decides what you do, and if you’re stuck in your job I think it’s even more important that you do this.
Fill your free time with things you like doing, and seek help if you start recognizing some of the symptoms for a longer period of time.
It’s fine to be bored every now and then, but if it persists, it’s time to do something about it.
If you are finding yourself in a bore out, read my articles on dealing with anxiety and the perfect self-care day to give yourself a break. You might also enjoy dating yourself, with 17 ideas to spend some time with yourself, away from all the stress of your work environment.