Motivating employees is the supreme discipline of employee management. But can a bonus/malus system help?
The bore-out: Peter is more than just bored
Learn how to recognize and take action against bore-out syndrome. Discover the causes, symptoms and consequences for employees and companies.
The fact that many people are stressed at work is quite normal today. Stress at work is socially desirable and shows that one is needed. Employees suffering from burnout are almost admired for the hard work they have done - to the limit and beyond. But what if one suffers from the opposite? When you're constantly bored and chronically underwhelmed at work? We explain what bore-out is all about and what you can do about it.
Peter actually wanted to become a policeman, but that didn't work out. Now he is a clerk in the office. He has been working there for a while, but he hardly enjoys his job anymore and the company has changed a lot recently. New boss, different tasks and, on top of that, job cuts. Peter is bored because he doesn't have enough tasks, but what would the supervisor say if he knew that Peter has so little to do? Surely he would also cut his job! Afraid of being fired, he covers up his boredom and starts delaying his tasks as long as possible. Peter is bored and yet he constantly has the feeling of being stressed. Is he suffering from a so-called bore-out?
What are the characteristics of bore-out syndrome?
The bore-out syndrome (boredom) is characterized as the counterpart of the burn-out syndrome. It refers to a state of pronounced underchallenge at work. The term was defined in 2007 by Philippe Rothlin and Peter Werder and presented to the general public for the first time in the book "Diagnose Boreout". Many researchers and doctors see bore-out as a fashionable condition rather than a serious illness or mental disorder. Nevertheless, bore-out syndrome seems to be a phenomenon that should be paid attention to, especially in the work environment. According to a report by the German Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 13 percent of employees in Germany feel they are not being challenged enough in their jobs, and five percent feel they are not being challenged enough. This not only has a negative impact on employees, but also on employers.
A bore-out can have various causes, but it usually results in a vicious circle from which the person affected finds it difficult to find his way out again. For example, Peter's interesting tasks were taken away in the course of a restructuring. Precisely because of the restructuring, however, he cannot bring this up in the office without seeing his job endangered or even being considered lazy. This leads to a paradoxical situation - employees suffering from bore-out stay in the office as long as possible in the evening in order to be able to justify their job, even though they have nothing to do. Often people who work in an office at the computer are affected, because the employer cannot track exactly, or only with considerable control effort, what an employee does all day. So Peter uses his working time to write private mails, book the next vacation or play online games.
A central cause for the development of a bore-out is a lack of fit between the person and the job ("person-job mismatch"). Those who then raise the issue of underachievement with their supervisor risk being overwhelmed with tasks that are no fun. The boredom is therefore rather hidden. This leads to idleness, which triggers a feeling of emptiness in the employee. Only those who contribute count as valuable members of society. Those affected thus resort to strategies to feign workload, but still feel their situation is hopeless.
The people affected
Peter suffers from a bore-out, but he is by no means lazy! He has always been very performance-oriented and capable and tends to be over-committed. And that's exactly where the problem lies: Highly performance-oriented people suffer enormously from boredom and underchallenge at work - because they want to perform and contribute, but are virtually "made lazy" by a lack of tasks. Peter has long since quit his job, but still feels obligated to the company because of his high sense of duty. Despite boredom and underchallenge, he stays in his job and suffers silently. Bore-out sufferers often perceive the boredom as a lack of being needed and feel stupid and devalued. Their competencies are not needed because there is no substantive engagement with the tasks.
A so-called bore-out can have almost the same symptoms as its counterpart, burn-out. Hiding the extreme boredom at work every day anew is exhausting in the long run. Peter now suffers from insomnia, digestive problems, headaches and back pain, dejection and susceptibility to infections. He has too few tasks, but also does not feel challenged in terms of content. This feeling triggers regular anxiety attacks in him. The symptoms of a bore-out are different for all those affected and are therefore not easy for superiors or colleagues to recognize.
Consequences for the company
The boreout syndrome not only has a negative impact on those affected, but also on companies. These cannot use the full potential of the employee because the true potential is not recognized. Employees who suffer from the syndrome sometimes switch to another company where they can develop better, or they stay and are dissatisfied and perform poorly because they have already resigned inwardly.
What can you do about a bore-out?
Often, a bore-out is not diagnosed until very late. This is fatal, because sufferers who remain stuck in this situation for too long can actually become dequalified. This ultimately leads to the fact that they can no longer reach their previous performance level even in a new job and overtax themselves.
How can you prevent a bore-out?
- Taking responsibility: Managers and supervisors should evaluate specific performance and not how long someone sits at their desk.
- Open communication: It is essential to talk openly about the topic so that those affected feel as little shame as possible. Employees should address underperformance at an early stage and consider measures or extensions of the scope of activities themselves.
- Find a balance: It can be very helpful if those affected seek intellectual compensation in their free time.
Bore-out syndrome should never be taken lightly, either by sufferers or by superiors. Peter is finally able to admit to himself that things cannot go on like this for him and has found a solution for himself: He overcomes his fears, leaves his job and applies for admission to the police academy.
Wondering how to motivate your employees for the long term instead? Find out in our guide to the topic: