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From burnout to boreout: A new work crisis?

Boreout at work
10:35 06/05/2024

Burnout is a now familiar syndrome denoting extreme workplace stress, resulting in complete mental and physical exhaustion. ‘Boreout’ – being chronically bored at work - is much less well known, but its consequences on wellbeing are similar, Virginie Di Giamberardino told Le Soir.

She’s an adviser on psychosocial issues at Cohezio, the organisation dealing with wellbeing, safety and protection issues at work across Belgium.

“The symptoms are almost the same, the feeling of devalorisation, a lack of confidence and self-esteem, the sense that you are useless,” she said. “This can end up in physical symptoms like sleeping problems, tiredness, headaches, intestinal pains, loss of appetite or even weight gain or skin complaints.”

Boreout at work also leads to increased stress and anxiety, depression and a lack of motivation, not to mention more frequent time off or sick leave for ‘illness’. Boreout also has consequences for employers. Staff with boreout are more likely to make mistakes and quite simply, no longer put much effort into their work.

The causes of boreout are clear. People suffer because the work is monotonous, repetitive or there is simply not enough of it. There is no sense of progression or development in the organisation; or if staff are overqualified, anything they are given to do will get done much quicker than their employer knows.

This resulted in ‘Francoise’ working only an hour or two per day as she knew her projects by heart: “When you are an experienced professional, you work faster than a young person without experience. And therefore I did my work  very fast. A project that should have taken two days’, I would finish in half a day, so the rest of the time I would have to find something to do.”

Escaping boreout

To cope with boreout, some employees focus on their spare time and hobbies. Others jobsearch, sign up for training at work or learn languages online. Some interviewees also told Le Soir they watch films, play the stock market, take additional part-time jobs or simply leave.

Boreout affects every sector and all levels in the workplace, although it is more common in white collar office jobs and for people who attach importance to their working life.

‘Max’ told Le Soir, “I had not known such boredom since my military service. The work was very administrative, dense, tedious, all in a professional framework that was complicated and not dynamic,... it was Kafkaesque, with an organisation that was rather confused.”  

It is hard to give an estimate of how many people suffer boreout in Belgium as there are no figures. However, a 2013 survey carried out in France on working conditions found that “2% of staff said they were permanently bored at work, 8% said they were bored often and 21% said their work always or often entailed monotonous tasks.” Transposing these figures to Belgium suggests that hundreds of thousands of Belgians get bored all the time or quite often at work.

Meanwhile Di Giamberardino notes that she has been rarely contacted about the phenomenon. She said this was perhaps because younger workers will usually ask to change their role or job, while workers over 50 did not feel confident enough to leave and search work elsewhere, as they require job security.

Other workers who did not want to be named in the report said they did not complain as they felt guilty saying they were bored in well-paid jobs or concerned being judged. They talked about being stuck in a ‘golden cage’, that they could not leave given that they earned a good salary and were home at 16.00 while their contemporaries would have to work longer hours with more stress and lower wages.


How can boreout be prevented? Di Giamberardino urges potential employees to check the job description and employers to ensure workers’ skills are used to the maximum and that staff are given the opportunity to develop and rise up the company ranks.

Finally, she said the key to ending boreout was communication. Employees should not be afraid to tell their managers how they are feeling, she makes clear: “Many employees confronted with boredom don’t dare talk about it for fear of being judged, rejected or not taken seriously.” Yet, she says, opening up a dialogue with their manager can help identify the source of the boredom and, if necessary, remedy it, for example with new tasks, new challenges or a reorganisation of the work.

And if that fails, she advises relying on outside activities, leisure and work. A more radical suggestion is asking the boss to allow them to take on complementary activities to give them more zest to continue their day-to-day tasks.

“It’s a way of rediscovering meaning, motivation and passion through this complementary activity,” says Di Giamberardino, emphasising that, in the most acute cases, you should seek medical help or a consultant who knows how to prevent psychosocial problems at work.

And finally, “Don’t hesitate to change jobs,” she made clear. “When possible, at least.”

Written by Liz Newmark