Thought Leadership

You don’t want your employees to burn out. But you also don’t want them bored to tears.

Burnout vs. “Bore-Out.”

This post originally appeared on Jessica Kriegel’s LinkedIn. To subscribe to her every-Friday newsletter, also on LinkedIn, go right here.

We’ve talked a lot about burnout in the last five years, and that’s a very important narrative about present work and where work is headed. It was especially pronounced during COVID and our debates about who and what were “essential” workers, and how we saw so many people’s connections back to work shift.

Burnout is a very relevant topic and it deserves as much attention as it gets. Leaders need to be aware of and they need to have strategies apart from “one free yoga class” or “Hey, go download this meditation app, I hear that might help.” Unfortunately at some level, the current “burnout” discussion is where the “culture” discussion was in 2014: we are still thinking we can solve the issue with perks, as opposed to a holistic shift in how we think about things.

What gets discussed less than burnout is “Bore-Out,” but it’s also afflicting organizations globally. Last Thursday one of my colleagues went to lunch with a friend; he told me the bar area was full, mostly with people in white-collar attire, and a lot of them were drinking at lunch. Now, does this say something broadly about addiction? Yes, but I won’t get into that particular topic here. Instead, when my colleague talked to some of them, a lot of those at this lunch expressed boredom about their job. “I do client check-ins in the AM,” said one, “and then honestly it’s mostly my CRM and automation doing the work. I’m not needed after 10am except for fire drills.”

A lot of people are bored at work. The BBC even has an article about it.

Here are two relevant call-out sections:

In 2014, she worked on a study, looking at more than 11,000 workers at 87 Finnish organisations. She found that chronic boredom “increased the likelihood of employees’ turnover and early retirement intentions, poor self-rated health and stress symptoms”.

Other research backs this up. A 2021 study showed that 186 government workers in Turkey who suffered from boreout also dealt with depression, and high rates of stress and anxiety. Studies show depression from boreout can follow workers outside the office, and lead to physical ailments from insomnia to headaches.

And:

“Giving meaning to the job is not just up to the employee,” he says, instead it’s up to management to create an office culture that makes people feel valuable. “Make minor changes to the job or tasks. Whatever makes work boring, make it enjoyable.” Organisations need to learn what boreout is, he says, and have resources available.

Some of this may confuse people, so let’s break it down a bit further.

What is a “culture,” really?

It all begins with the “experiences” of working at a place. That drives beliefs, which drive actions, which ultimately drive results.

If you are bored to death every day at work — in-person or when you log on from your living room or WeWork location — then that’s a bad experience. You won’t have strong beliefs about the company, and as we know from decades of research, you likely will consistently have one foot out the door and not necessarily work that hard or “go the extra mile.” And why would you, if the job is boring and there’s nothing really to do?

People might argue with the second pull-quote, where the author talks about how meaning is not the responsibility of the employee. Shouldn’t employees be finding meaning in their roles? Yes, they should. There is some responsibility to the employee. But what the best cultures do is they hire from a place of meaning and purpose — they try to connect candidates based on passion or what they truly believe in, even if they’re not the best candidate on paper — and then they help their managers constantly redefine the purpose and how the purpose connects with the tasks.

A lot of boredom comes because you cannot see the connection between what you are doing 8-10 hours/day and what’s happening at the macro level. That connection should be filled in by executives and middle management. They should be connecting the mission, vision, and purpose to the daily tasks. And — this might be more important — they should be seeing how workflows are, how blockers are, where problems are, etc. They should be finding new opportunities and challenges for employees who deserve them (less boredom) and taking work off the overburdened (burnout) to the less-burdened (“bore out”) to find more balance for all.

Good cultures have managers that do this constantly and view it as part of their job: people development, task designation, organic check-ins. Bad cultures have almost none of this, and everything is a fire drill even though six people on full-time payroll aren’t doing anything all week. You have probably seen examples of both cultures in your career.

How do we get to less boring organizations?

Not every widget is sexy. Some stuff is boring and people still need income, so they work at companies that don’t produce amazing high-end tech or save the world in some way. That is all OK. That is how the economy works and is diversified.

But within every organization, people should feel challenged and feel connected to something, within reason. Not every role can or will feel this way, and that’s true as well. But you can reduce boredom in employees, and that all begins with:

  • Talking to them about their current workflow.
  • Talking to them about their goals.
  • Checking in on what types of work or projects they want.
  • Showing them what it would take to do that type of work.
  • Assigning mentors across more senior or established members of your team.
  • Showing up and listening to needs, goals, and blockers.

It’s amazing how many times at CULTURE PARTNERS we’ve worked with a client, and their focus is burnout, and when we start talking about culture and active listening and creating experiences, we come to realize that 3-4 people are getting all the work and opportunities, and those people are burnt to a crisp, but over here there’s 10-12 other people bored out of their gourds who could do more. Finding that balance of experience and managerial efficiency is a crucial part of culture. And if you assign the “A-Players” all the work, eventually they’ll leave. Remember that too.

What’s your take on boredom at work? How common is it?

Related Stories

Learn More

Connecting Through Culture: Spotlight on the CPO

Learn More

Why I Understand the Value of Cultural Alignment: Once a Client, Now Culture Partner’s Keynoter and Consultant John Henry Scott III

Learn More

Connecting Through Culture: Spotlight on the CFO

What Can We Help You Find?