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Leave Boreout behind – Step by step

Leave Boreout behind – Step by step

When work life changes, we try to change with it. People often can adapt but in the past years there has been an increase in “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” One result almost everyone has heard about is Burnout, which received its own ICD code in 2018. “It is characterized by three dimensions: 1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 2) increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and 3) reduced professional efficacy. Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.” (icd.who.int) Another stress-induced often workplace-related problem is called: Boreout (Rothlin & Werder 2007). Similar to Burnout, Boreout causes exhaustion, negativism and increased levels of stress and anxiety. While Burnout is caused by an overwhelming workload, Boreout appears in times of too little work or insufficient challenges. 

Symptoms of Boreout

People, who suffer from this condition, often feel upset with their low impact at work and at the same time do not have the energy to change something about it or involve anyone. The fear of being exposed as a free-rider, a lazybones or an opportunist causes many people to suffer in silence. They feel exhausted spending most of their time checking in on slack, answering emails or sitting in meetings while feeling unproductive, unhappy and guilty. This problem has increased during the past year. 

Pandemic increases the risk

At the beginning of the pandemic people felt isolated in their newly set up home offices. In order to change that they participated in as many meetings as possible. Realizing that this  causes them to be even more unproductive they started to reorganize their work successfully. Having more time for new tasks led to either having too much work or because of the economical problems related to the pandemic too little work. Many companies were forced to delay projects or reduce working hours, which gave them even more time than expected. Ending up in a situation like that, might sound appealing for some but is in fact often an unexpected and frustrating result for highly motivated people. It can become a vicious circle. Following Parkinson’s law, which states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” (C. N. Parkinson 1955 in Economist), people start being overcritical with their work, doubting their performance, which has a negative influence on their self-image.

Where your company starts?

Open communication, regular constructive feedback and transparency in task distribution are only some approaches, which can be helpful to prevent Boreout. However, these need to be initiated and overseen by the leading managers. 

Where do you start?

Ask yourself, what can you do, when you :

  1. Feel that you are missing out on challenges?
  2. Are feeling unmotivated due to monotonous work or routines?
  3. Feel burnt out and exhausted just thinking about asking for more work? 

Starting at square one by reading this article we will offer you a simple step by step approach, which might help you to start over again.

Step 1: How to recharge your batteries

Boreout and Burnout are both psychological syndromes caused by intense or enduring emotional or work-related stress. Regular self-care and healthy routines have a positive impact on the recovery process. Think about the last time you have been doing something for yourself, which made you feel happy, accepted, fulfilled, appreciated, calm, relaxed or energetic? 

If you have problems recalling an event like that or if your memory comes up exclusively  with events before the pandemic, there is a good chance that you have been missing out on creating healthy alternatives for yourself. Maybe you were hoping that you could just “go back to normal” once the pandemic has passed. I think it is fair to assume that there will be some problems with that one way or the other. That leaves us with the option to start with something healthy right away. When you think about your earlier life, what were the combining elements of your strategy? Maybe you have been meeting friends, singing in a choir or were a member of a local gym. All these are ways of individual relaxation, which can be effective as long as they are available. Then there is active relaxation, which includes little exercises which regulate your stress level immediately and are available to you at any time. 

A short relaxation exercise  

Breathing deeply and consciously while counting slowly up. You inhale and count along in your own rhythm up from one until you feel that you cannot inhale any longer. That can be anything up to five to seven or even ten. When you start exhaling you restart counting from one up to a number which is a little higher than during the inhale. This way you make sure your exhalation is a little longer than your inhalation, which will calm you down and keep your mind focused. You can repeat this as often as you feel like it or until you feel calm. For a more intense effect you can try this while being in nature, next to an open window or anywhere with fresh air. For more tools and relaxation exercises visit our webinar or contact us.

Step 2: How to meet the real you

Start with yourself, self-reflection, honesty towards yourself and a good portion of self-compassion. You are a highly skilled and trained employee, you deserve a job in which you can grow and thrive!

What was it, what attracted you to this position in the first place? Maybe your role has shifted or your responsibilities have changed. Maybe you are new to the place and did not yet find your niche. Make sure you bring everything to the table: your values, strengths, interests, skills and your future goals. Take your time and allow yourself a fresh perspective. Is there a difference between you as a private person and you as a professional? Think about yourself as a masterpiece made of many single puzzle pieces. You might not be aware of all there are. In order to change that, request constructive feedback from people you trust, who are supportive and who know you well. Once you feel you have a more realistic view, you might start to have a new lead. Follow this up by asking your social and professional network for support. This can be by endorsements or sharing connections. You are totally worth the time to get to know yourself better!

Step 3: How to make your time count

There are no wrong answers! What are the challenges you are interested in to meet? What are the skills you want to learn? Are you questioning your choices all together? 

Complete Change

Maybe this job is not what you hoped for. Maybe you always wanted to become something else all together. There is no better time than now to become serious about it. Consider your options and start living a life that makes you feel happy and fulfilled. 

Change of Scenery 

Maybe the company you are working for has promised opportunities but now runs short on keeping them. Perhaps the values of the team are not matching your own or the communication is not sufficient. Maybe there is no support for a healthy lifestyle, a growth mindset or equality.

Change of Perspective 

Maybe you have been in that role far too long. You see others come and go but you would like to change as well. Maybe you are taken for granted or your company has changed so rapidly that you feel overwhelmed by the increase in tasks you do not enjoy and the lack of career options in your area.

If one or more of these apply, then it is time for a change. Start by making your manager aware of the situation that you would love to try something new. Consider starting by learning something new with the company supporting you. Another option could be switching temporarily to a different position or requesting a mentor for a new field. Contact HR to check for open positions within the company. 

If you feel that leaving is the only option, please consider your chances before you go. Make sure you leave prepared with an updated professional network and CV as well as references from your professional network (e.g.: from LinkedIn).

Would you like to have support during your transition period? Feel free to contact us for private counseling sessions. For more tools fighting Boreout check out our 30 Minutes Webinar in June.


Books: Philippe Rothlin, Peter R. Werder: Diagnose Boreout, warum Unterforderung im Job krank macht, Redline, München 2007, ISBN 978-3-636-01462-7. In English: Boreout! Overcoming workplace demotivation. Peter Werder and Philippe Rothlin, (English edition) Kogan Page, October 2008.

Photo: Joonyeop Baek on Unsplash