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Boreout!: Overcoming Workplace Demotivation Hardcover – November 1, 2008
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"A workplace hazrad, boreout causes weariness, loss of enthusiasm, and decreased productivity. In the face of a recession, employee demotivation is too costly to ignore!" Business Digest
About the Author
Philippe Rothlin is an experienced project manager in the banking sector and an independent business consultant. He is currently a Director at Strategy Consulting in Barcelona, Spain. Peter R. Werder is a public relations business consultant at Jung von Matt / Limmat in Zurich, Switzerland.
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In order to cope with boreout, workers often adopt a variety of strategies such as spread work over a longer period than necessary, spend time on the internet or conduct their own personal business during work hours. Also they become proficient at concealing the fact that they aren't spending their time productively. The problem with boreout is that the lack of challenging work can have destructive effects of the individual both professionally and also impacting their personal lives. In addition to feeling bored and under-challenged, people will also feel tired, irritable and listless.
The authors make the point though that not all occupations are equally susceptible to boreout. For example a defining characteristic of boreout is being able to "pretend to be doing their jobs like actors in a pantomime". Even though other workers might feel bored and underchallenged such as a taxi driver, a production line worker, or a childcare worker they can't by definition be suffering from boreout because it is difficult for them to pretend to be working. Contributing factors to boreout are the rise in desk jobs and also the division of labor and specialization. These latter two factors increase the distance of the worker from the final product and also decrease opportunities for a change in occupation
The recommended solutions to escaping from boreout are basically talk to your boss about getting some additional interesting work to do, or find another job. According to the authors boreout is a paradoxical condition because although it is destructive to the individual, they do not make an effort to escape the boreout cycle, mainly because they want to avoid the stress that would be associated with taking a new job for example.
I felt that the book had a lot of interesting ideas, also I will resist criticising their solutions, as although they seem simplistic realistically they may be the only options. However in other ways I thought their analysis was a little bit lacking, Boreout is really just a subcategory of bigger problems in the workplace. I feel that many workers are alienated and experience feelings of being unmotivated, unchallenged, and bored, and that these feelings can spill over into their personal lives. For example I often have these feelings even at jobs when I've been fairly consistently busy without much time for surfing the internet. Similarly lack of work doesn't necessarily imply being unstressed, some workplaces I've experienced have been quite stressful even though most people weren't that busy. Mainly due to the random and seemingly unpredictable punishment or firings that would descend from the incompetent management.
Also although I believe the authors solutions to boreout are essentially correct, there are a number of issues that make the solutions also problematic:
- In the current era of double digit unemployment finding another job may not be easy. Also it could well be a case of meaningless job hopping. The only interviews I've been able to get lately have been for roles that are almost identical to my current job.
- Similarly do you really want to highlight to your boss that you haven't got enough to do? Their might be some redundancies in your department fairly quickly ! In my experience a lot of bosses aren't that interested in dealing with worker's issues. Mine spends most of his time swearing or kicking the office equipment.
Personally I think any solution to boreout may require companies and society to consider opportunities for worker growth such as more training in different areas, job mobility, and the ability to switch to a different line of work more easily.
Finally I can't resist taking a shot at the economics of the condition. Books like Boreout, or similar titles such as "The Living Dead" include a superficial analysis where they state that boreout costs the United States "750 billion dollars a year". If we assume that suddenly all the workers who were afflicted with boreout became super efficient, then labor productivity would go up a huge amount. Then there would need to be less workers, companies would make bigger profits but they would flow to CEOs and wealthy shareholders. These people would spend some of the money but likely save a lot as well. The workers who lost their jobs would spend very little especially once their unemployment benefits run out. This would result in a collapse in aggregate demand and likely devastate the US economy. In conclusion then although boreout as defined in the book is not healthy for the individual worker, a few bored office workers earning and spending money is not such a bad thing. That online shopping they are doing during work hours is probably helping the US economy !
The book is a quick and easy read, and does have some useful insights.
Boreout! as a book does two things, first it explores, on a sociological level the emerging problem for corporations called "boreout syndrome."
While burnout comes from trying to do too much, boreout comes from being chronically underchallenged at work. Workers suffering boreout feel dissatisfaction with their job and no sense of commitment or joy in their work. The book explains how and why workers become disengaged.
The book's second half gives practical advice for people on how to get out of a boring job and into one that is more fulfilling.
The authors are explicit in stating "There is only one person who can truly solve the problem. That is you, yourself." This books give the specific tools and advice you need to take your life back into your control and to find better work situation. This is not a self-help book; it's intellectual and, at times, analytical. I'd recommend it for those who know it's time for a new job, but who can't seem to take the next step.