Boreout: When Your Work Asks Too Little Of You

Lisanne van Marrewijk
Reviewed by psychologist Judith Klenter
illustratie van iemand die zich verveelt op wekrk
When somebody asks you how it’s going, we often respond by saying “busy”. Because we generally are. Busy at work, busy with social events, and busy taking care of ourselves. And that stuff is all important. But what if, on the other hand, life is just asking too little of you? This is something you maybe don’t hear about as much (because it’s good to be busy, right?), but it actually has the same effect as burnout.

 

How does that work exactly? What are the signs of boreout and, more importantly: How can you keep your energy levels high even when life just isn’t that challenging?

 

Boreout vs. burnout

 

More and more companies are trying to create the best possible work-life balance for their employees to stop people from becoming overworked. And that’s great, because a survey from Deloitte found that more than half of the respondents indicated that they had experienced at least one symptom of burnout over the past years. 

 

But although having “too much” going on is obviously bad for you (your mother was right about that), having too little to challenge you is not ideal either. What’s more: If your work isn’t challenging you enough, it can actually have the same effect as burnout. 

 

“You feel stressed, irritable and restless, struggle to concentrate, find it hard to sleep and keep putting things off because you don’t feel like doing them,” explains psychologist Judith Klenter. We call that boreout. 

 

“Boreout is caused by a lack of qualitatively and quantitatively challenging tasks, and it goes hand in hand with physical symptoms,” Judith says.

 

The best way to describe it is “chronic boredom”, French assistant professor, Lotta Harju tells the BBC

 

How does boreout occur?

 

Why does this boredom arise? Just as with burnout, there’s often a combination of factors that contribute here. “The most significant reason is a sense of meaninglessness. The feeling that your work is unimportant or doesn’t have a purpose or meaning. Or that it doesn’t contribute to your personal goals,” explains Judith.

 

“This often occurs for people who carry out routine work,” the psychologist continues. “It might also be that your knowledge and skills aren’t being tested or that you have too many chores and tasks that you don’t find sufficiently challenging. Work then becomes sad and monotonous.”

 

You’ll find it hard to get into a productive flow, which is an issue because this flow is often a source of satisfaction and happiness.

 

So, then what?

 

While burnout demands too much of your mental capacity, boreout demands too little from your brain. 

 

“Despite the fact that you have enough energy to carry out a task, you lack the excitement, focus and motivation that you need to keep going,” explains Judith. And this has an effect on your mental health and self-confidence.

 

Although it sounds weird at first, boredom can lead to stress and impact our emotions, work performance, and quality of work. 

 

How to combat boredom at work

 

Just because your work may become less challenging than before doesn’t mean all hope is lost for you. The three tips below will help you to combat boredom and boreout at work. Take action and…

 

… talk about it

 

Talking about your thoughts and feelings is always a relief. It allows you to arrive at ideas and insights that you wouldn’t have thought of alone, but it’s also important for letting other people know what’s going on with you. 

 

When you’re open about your feelings and challenges, other people can help you find a solution, like rearranging your tasks or finding more meaning in your work.

 

📖 Further reading: How To Talk About Your Mental Health at Work

 

… learn something new

 

Learning new things boosts your self-confidence and gives you a sense of purpose. This is exactly what you need in times of boredom or a dip in your mental health. Follow an online course on something you’ve always wanted to do, learn a new language or try a new sport. 

 

“Doing something new is good for our mental health. It boosts our dopamine levels and gives us a sense of accomplishment. Sounds good, right?” explains Judith.

 

Does the thought of this make you nervous or do you not have the energy to try something new? “Make things easy for yourself by taking the smallest possible step,” continues Judith. “Write out the steps that you’re going to take and remember that you want to do something that brings you joy.”

 

… step out of your comfort zone

 

Not everyone finds it easy to challenge themselves, but it’s important to create a certain sense of positive stress and excitement in your life.

 

Try to find challenges that give you healthy butterflies in your stomach while still being manageable. 

 

These could be both in your private life (consider setting up a side project that energizes you) or in your professional life. Along with your manager, search for tasks you might find more challenging at work. 

 

A ship in the harbour is safe

 

It’s totally normal if you sometimes have a day, week or short period of time where your motivation or energy is a little lower than usual. 

 

Have you noticed that this is affecting your mental health? Then discuss this (with friends, at work, or with a psychologist) and find that sense of excitement again. 

 

As the American theologian, William Shedd, put it: “A ship in harbour is safe, but that’s not what ships were built for.”

 

💡 Some further reading you might also enjoy: How to Make Each Day Special