Life

Boreout: how to spot the tell-tale signs and what you can do about it

Does your job leave you feeling underworked but exhausted all at once? You could be dealing with boreout – here’s the tell-tale signs to keep an eye out for.

For many people, the idea of being bored at work is the dream. In a world dominated by the 24/7 expectations of ‘always on’ culture and the default of regular overtime, boredom has become a luxury people dream of.

After all, you might think getting paid to do relatively undemanding, easy or repetitive tasks can’t be so bad. However, as it turns out, workplace boredom could be a lot more insidious than many people previously thought. In fact, it can lead to a condition which rivals the severity of workplace burnout – boreout.

Over the last couple of years, more and more people have woken up to the signs and symptoms of burnout – a syndrome caused by “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed,” according to the WHO. But what people don’t know is that boreout presents in a similar way to burnout – it just results from feeling underworked and unchallenged. 

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“It can be easy to spot the symptoms of burnout: you may feel overwhelmed, exhausted or under pressure,” explains Pablo Vandenabeele, clinical director for mental health at Bupa UK. “But these are all tell-tale signs of another work-related condition that can impact your mental health: boreout.”

Vandenabeele continues: “Boreout and burnout are similar in the respect that they have similar symptoms, but the things that sets them apart is the workload that triggers them. Burnout occurs when you feel stressed or overwhelmed at work for long periods of time, whereas you may develop boreout if you don’t feel challenged enough. 

“Experiencing boreout can not only affect your work performance, but impact your mental health, too.”

A woman working from home
Boreout: being bored at work isn't the dream so many people assume it would be.

Although the term ‘boreout’ may not sound serious, the condition itself can take a massive toll on your mental health – in June 2020, a French worker was awarded a £36,000 payout after his lawyers successfully argued that he had suffered from extreme boreout which led to a nervous breakdown.

If you think you’re dealing with boreout, it’s important to remember that recognising the condition is a great first step – and there are things that can be done to help you overcome your boreout in the longterm. With that being said, we asked Vandenabeele to tell us more about the tell-tale signs of boreout, and recommend some ways we can begin to tackle this surprisingly common condition.   

What are the tell-tale signs of boreout?

A woman experiencing boreout
Signs of boreout include feeling anxious, sad or depressed.

As Vandenabeele has already established, the signs of boreout are remarkably similar to those of burnout – it’s just the situation which triggers those symptoms which differs.

“Experiencing boreout can not only affect your work performance but impact your day-to-day life and mental health,” Vandenabeele explains. “Early signs of boreout may include feelings of anxiety, sadness and depression. Boreout can be common in your job; you may find yourself feeling underwhelmed if your workload is repetitive, easy and there’s not much opportunity for social interaction, leaving you feeling disconnected from your work and colleagues.”

He continues: “With many of us working remotely still due to Covid-19 restrictions, it’s really important to understand the signs of boreout to watch out for.”

4 ways to overcome boreout

Talk it out

Two people talking to each other over Zoom
Boreout: talking to a close friend or manager about how you're feeling can help you to feel less alone.

“Whether you’re experiencing boreout in your work or relationships, it’s important to speak about how you’re feeling,” Vandenabeele recommends. 

“Opening up and sharing your thoughts – whether it’s with a close friend or your manager – can help. Ask yourself what’s causing you to feel this way: if it’s your workload, you don’t have to leave your job to improve these feelings. Instead, speak to your manager about what tasks are making you feel bored, and try to identify what kinds of new responsibilities would reduce your boreout.

“If you are struggling with feelings of boreout, speaking to your GP can help. They’ll be able to help you identify what’s causing you to feel this way, and to identify steps to take to improve how you feel.”

Strike a balance

“Over the last few months, many of us have adapted to working from home,” Vandenabeele says. 

“Perhaps your workload has relaxed during these past few weeks, or you’ve not had much interaction with your colleagues. Whatever the cause of your work boreout, it’s important to maintain a good work/life balance. If you look after yourself well and achieve a good balance, your relationships outside of work may improve and you’ll become a more productive worker.”

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He continues: “Set yourself small and achievable goals, such as logging on and off at set times each day. The line between working from home and enjoying your life outside of work has become blurred; if you’re finding the balance difficult, try to work in a separate space away from where you’ll relax after you finish.”

Try something new

A woman doing watercolour painting
Learning a new skill can be a great way to boost your confidence and help you feel better about yourself if boreout is impacting your self-esteem.

“Trying something new – like learning a new skill or joining a fitness class – can help boost your mood and leave you feeling productive and motivated,” Vandenabeele explains. “If boreout has left you feeling anxious or experiencing low self-esteem, volunteering can be a great way to help you feel better about yourself, and it can help others feel good about themselves too.

“Even during these uncertain times, there’s still opportunities to volunteer. A quick search online can bring up local volunteering opportunities.”

Find your motivation

“If you’re experiencing boreout, chances are you won’t feel as motivated to achieve your goals,” Vandenabeele says. “Take some time away to evaluate your goals. Notice how your body responds as you think of each of the goals you’re trying to work on: if your body feels tense, scrap that goal.”

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He continues: “Instead, focus on the goals that make you smile and feel relaxed. Write down the individual steps that will be required to achieve this goal and tick them off when you achieve them.

“Don’t fret if you steer off-track, either. If you’re less self-critical and practice self-kindness, you’re more likely to pick yourself up and carry on if you slip up.”

Coping with mental health issues

If you’re struggling with your mental health – whether because of work or other things going on in your life – it’s important to remember you’re not alone, and there are places you can go for help.

For more information on coping with a mental health issue, including what help is available, you can check out NHS Every Mind Matters or visit the Mind website.

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