Spending time watching the clock go by, taking coffee breaks longer, browsing the Internet aimlessly… We have all been confronted, at least once, with these situations during a downturn in work activity. But, for some, the boredom is daily and can quickly become unbearable. Anxiety, fatigue, depression… The bore-out is near.
While burn-out, or professional exhaustion linked to too much activity, is slowly being recognized as an occupational disease, boredom at work remains taboo. However, occupying a position where there is nothing to do can become an ordeal. Because behind idleness in the office hides a real lack of intellectual stimulation, very devaluing and paradoxically, very stressful. A suffering that can go beyond the psychic framework. Faced with boredom, “palliative” habits can quickly set in: snacking, more frequent cigarette breaks and sometimes even the use of alcohol. Behaviors that explain, according to an English study entitled ” Bored to death », that employees who are bored at work present a risk two to three times higher of cardiovascular accidents than those whose employment is stimulating.
Why do we talk about it so little? How do the people involved get there? How to get out? Answers from Christian Bourion, editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Psychosociology and author of The bore-out syndrome. When boredom at work drives you crazy (Albin Michel). He is also the author of a study, carried out in 2011 with Stéphane Trebucq, on the bore-out syndrome.
Boredom at work would affect 32% of European employees. They reported spending at least two hours, if not all day, doing nothing. These are the conclusions of a Steptone study, carried out in 2008, involving 11,238 people from 7 European countries.
“Bored to death” is an English study carried out in 2010 by Annie Britton and Martin J. Shipley covering 7,500 members of the public service in England.
Figures to be taken with caution, however, according to professors Emmanuel Abord de Chatillon and Céline Desmarais. More information on their blog Management and occupational health.
You are one of the first researchers in France to have alerted to the number of employees facing boredom at work. How to explain this situation ?
Christian Bourion: The phenomenon of bore-out is not recent and I think that today the number of employees who do not have much to do at work is very important. If inactivity within companies has been surveyed since 2008 at European level, in France, it is mainly local authorities that have “trivialized” boredom at work. This can be explained concretely by an inappropriate hiring policy in the public sector, with structures that created jobs “to render service” rather than to meet real needs. But the reasons for the “generalization” of boredom at work are multiple: voluntary shelving or “placing” in the public for civil servants who cannot be fired, positions not abolished but emptied of their meaning , extreme fragmentation of tasks in the private sector…
“Being paid for doing nothing” appears to be an enviable situation for some, intolerable for others, why?
Christian Bourion: For 90% of employees, boredom is unbearable, but the remaining 10% can find happiness in this system. Often, these people do not consider work as an essential element of life, a way of fulfilling oneself, which helps in the construction of oneself and which carries within it a form of ideal. But to do nothing, not to be stimulated professionally, is to risk losing self-esteem, to feel incapable and useless. Boredom can be an open door to gloom, questioning, destructuring of one’s personality, depression…
How to explain the taboo that surrounds the bore-out?
Christian Bourion: Admitting that you are bored at work when you are paid is very frowned upon, it is not politically correct. Especially nowadays, since having a job already seems like an incredible opportunity. Anyone who claims to be bored at work may even be confronted with hatred. So to say, in addition, that we suffer from this situation is inconceivable. Added to this is a form of self-censorship. In the case of burn-out, we try to minimize our work overload, in bore-out, we try to minimize our boredom. But it would seem all the same that the taboo begins to fall. The bore-out constitutes such suffering for many people currently in France that speech is beginning to be freed.
What advice can we give to people who suffer from boredom at work?
Christian Bourion: It is often difficult to change things without leaving your post. The first step in limiting the risks of boron-out is to become aware of your situation. Spending time doing nothing at the office imprisons the person in a form of “normality” that is not normal! Taking a step back is essential and life-saving. People affected by burn-out lock themselves into incessant work, those confronted with bore-out lock themselves into boredom. For a person who has been boarded up, other than resignation, there is unfortunately not much escape. For others, especially young people, who are sometimes employed in “useless” positions at the start of their careers, it is possible to learn from this situation. You have to take advantage of it to develop despite everything, to find out what your real professional aspirations are, what you really want to achieve through your work. This often makes it possible to put in place strategies to make things evolve, to establish a dialogue with your hierarchy and to point out that you deserve better than an empty position. To continue to move forward, to flourish, you have to refuse to let yourself be immured in professional boredom.
In The civil servant paradox (ed. Albin Michel, 2011) Zoé Shepard, alias Aurélie Boullet, territorial administrator, denounces the uselessness of certain civil service positions in France. This story sparked a lively controversy but also testified, for the first time, to the suffering caused by boredom at work.
Bore-out: the symptoms
Demotivation, anxiety, sadness… these are the first symptoms felt by employees confronted with boredom on a daily basis. In the long term, the bore-out will set in with a strong feeling of self-devaluation which can lead to a deconstruction of the personality and depressive falls.
The Bore-out syndrome, when boredom at work drives you crazy by Christian Bourion
Le Bore-out, when boredom at work makes you sick by François Baumann