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Boreout syndrome: When boredom at work becomes a serious problem

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The working world can be quite difficult from time to time and although having a job is a privilege nowadays, that does not mean that it cannot cause any problems. Over the past decades, the acceptance of psychological disorders caused by work and the workplace has increased significantly. Many symptoms that used to be overlooked are now part of recognized psychological disorders that require treatment. 

During the 70s, Herbert Freudenberger already used the term Burnout in connection with overworked staff in a psychology-related journal – and now, almost 50 years later, nearly every second person has had or knows someone who suffered from Burnout syndrome, making it the most common work-related psychological disorder.

Over the past few years, however, a new psychological disorder has been spreading throughout the working world.

Where many, especially Millennials, felt overworked and stressed at their workplace, the newer generation, Gen Z, struggles with too little (challenging) work and not enough learning development.

How to recognize Boreout

The symptoms of the Boreout and the Burnout syndrome are very similar. In most cases, as the illness progresses, the psychological symptoms will also cause physical problems and thus lead to an overall deterioration of a persons’ health.

Psychological symptoms of Boreout

When suffering from the Boreout syndrome, your psyche takes the hardest hit. Persons concerned will feel tense, irritable, cynical and tend to have sudden outbursts of anger.

All these counterproductive feelings will lead to an overall negative outlook on life and most people react to this by detaching themselves from their environment and emotionally isolating themselves. As time progresses, and due to the lack of social interaction, the majority of patients start feeling lethargic, apathetic, and often anxious. Consequently, they start developing a depression which will then cause more symptoms, both psychologically and physically.

Physical symptoms of Boreout

Physical symptoms vary strongly between affected people. The most common symptoms are headaches, dizziness, and an upset stomach. Additionally, many psychological disorders also cause your immune system to weaken, making people more susceptible to infections. Because many do not think of psychological reasons as the root of a physical problem, constant colds, for example, are often dismissed when they are actually a very common sign of a psychological disorder.

What causes Boreout

Most people would probably scoff at the idea of complaining about not having enough work to do, however, imagine this: You started working an hour ago and you are already done with all your tasks for the day – they were not really demanding and you did not actually learn anything. You are now scrolling through social media, and everyone pretty much seems to have a more engaging time than you. There are seven more hours until you can go home and you are also all caught up with your private tasks. The only thing left to do now is sit and wait. Now imagine hundreds of days like this in a row – Boreout all of a sudden seems to be very much realistic, right?

Boreout can be caused, apart from extreme boredom, by anything that leads to an imbalance between an employees' expectations of their work and their actual requirements. Hence they can actually have enough tasks to fill their day, however, they are so insufficiently challenged that they are constantly bored, frustrated and dissatisfied. Other reasons for a Boreout can also include: : 

  • a lack of purpose felt by the employee
  • a lack of intellectual challenge
  • a lack of prospect for progression

How to prevent Boreout

Since Boreout and Burnout syndrome are both psychological disorders, their preventive measures are in many ways very similar.

As an employee, it is your obligation to communicate to your employer if you are not satisfied with your position. They cannot fix the problem if you do not tell them that there is one. A well balanced private life also helps to improve your attitude towards work. Although this is not a long term solution, if you are genuinely happy outside of work, it is a lot harder to let any struggles at work tear you down.

Although employees are responsible to communicate any issues, it is the employers' obligation to prevent them beforehand. A healthy workplace is key to ensuring the happiness of employees and preventing the development of psychological disorders.

An academic report by the WHO suggested that companies should take a three-pronged approach to ensure a healthy work environment: 

  • Protect mental health by reducing work-related risk factors 
  • Promote mental health by valuing the positive aspects of work and the strengths of employees 
  • Address mental health problems regardless of the cause

Now what does it mean to protect and promote mental health: This can be as easy as informing the staff that support is available and recognizing and rewarding the contribution of employees on a regular basis. Involving employees in decision making and conveying a feeling of control and participation also increases employee engagement. Many companies are also starting to implement workshops regarding stress management or offer programs for career development. In any way, the key to success is involving stakeholders and employees on all levels and enforce an honest and open communication culture to enable employees to openly address their feelings.

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