Bored of work? You may have a case of "boreout"

I've had a few boring jobs in my day, but the most depressing one was my first job out of college. I was bored stiff, and I didn't want to be.

It was an exciting job for a then-22-year-old. I had landed a job as an office production assistant, working at the studios of 20th Century Fox. One of my corny highlights was looking out a window into a parking lot one afternoon and seeing Sean Connery get out of the car. I had arrived, sort of.

But while the office needed help, it turned out that they didn't need all that much help. Within a few days, I had organized the filing cabinets, ran several errands and helped get this television production office running smoothly. But I was an assistant of an assistant, and after about a week there, it started to become apparent that there was no longer much for me to do. Every day became more and more boring, and I became more and more desperate to look busy. I think it worked too well. When I resorted to polishing the picture frames on the wall, the assistant came over to me and said, "I think we both know what has to happen..."

So I was "let go," but given two week's severance pay, which was really very decent of them. And then I promptly found a job where I was even more bored, and the location -- an office building miles and miles from Hollywood -- wasn't exciting either.

I won't bore everyone by going through my history of every boring job I've ever had, but I've been thinking about my earlier stabs at gainful employment because of a fun story in The Orlando Sentinel earlier this week about "boreout," a condition coined by Swiss authors and business consultants, Phillippe Rothlin and Peter Werder.

They have a book called Boreout!: Overcoming Workplace Demotivation. It was a best-seller in Europe last year and will arrive in the United States this September. They write about being bored on the job and how many boring jobs breed employees who are uninterested, exhausted and eventually depressed. Their conclusions apparently are that some unproductive employees aren't lazy, but just bored.

And that can become a problem for workers who feel as if they can't possibly quit and give up that steady paycheck.

Incidentally, I'm not saying we should feel completely sorry for people in boring jobs; I'm just trying to help spread the word of an affliction that I know affects many employees around the world. But obviously, things are within our control: It's very possible and plausible to find another job while you're still working in a position that you don't find interesting. And the authors' book, of course, is all about finding ways to make your present job stimulating, instead of quitting. The answer to conquering boreout isn't that you accept boredom, but that you find a way to bridge it.

So if you're the boss of some staff workers who seem unmotivated, maybe there's a reason. Perhaps you aren't challenging your most important resources -- your employees. Or if you're working and feeling lackluster about your situation, maybe you haven't considered yet that you have the condition of "boreout," and perhaps it's time to try to stretch the limits of your role and make it an exciting and fulfilling one. Or maybe you're bored because it has something to do with your childhood -- perhaps ever since you were a newspaper delivery carrier in high school and had a manager who was a tyrant, you resent having to work for "The Man." Or maybe it goes even deeper than that.

Or -- quite possibly -- you just have a very boring job.

Geoff Williams is a business journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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