Tag Archives: employee engagement


Boreout the latest workplace malaise

Boreout is a management theory dating from 2007 in Diagnose Boreout, a book by the Swiss business consultants Peter Werder and Philippe Rothlin. They suggest that the lack of work, boredom, and subsequently low level of satisfaction is now an identifiable trend in the modern workplace particularly amongst white-collar workers. Recently, in France, Frederic Desnard tried and failed to sue his employer for being “killed professionally through boredom”  in his job as perfume industry executive.

Does boreout exist?

The report by Werder and Rothlin references research in 2005 into time-wasting at work carried out by AOL and salary.com  The survey revealed that of 10,000 employees showed that the average worker frittered away 2.09 hours per eight-hour day outside their break time on non-work related tasks. The reason most often cited for this behaviour (by 33% of respondents) was a managerial failure to assign specific tasks. They had insufficient work.

Brussels based osteopath Ian Tarlton said he is now treating patients many of whom he believes are suffering from “boreout” syndrome when it becomes manifested in physical symptoms. At one time he observed these symptoms were more readily associated with “burnout.” Long hours, over load and excessive pressure. Now he reports a shift where people simply hate their jobs and they are bored, literally to ill-health. This can be from not having enough to do or insufficient meaningful work. Each patient has different problems (e.g. headaches, digestive issues, tightness in the neck or spine) but Ian is seeing an increase in patients who openly report a lack of professional well-being.

Read: Help I hate my job

5 downsides of boreout

Low employee engagement and absenteeism have been plaguing businesses for years. A normal level of absenteeism has to be built into any HR head count projections. All employee become sick or have personal issues to attend to. The issue starts when low engagement and absenteeism become chronic. This leads to a vicious cycle:

  • reduction in productivity – low engagement impacts productivity. Employees under perform. Boreout coping strategies include stretching assignments to fill up the week and working on personal admin in office time, checking in on Facebook, taking cigarette and coffee breaks and even naps in the bathroom.
  • low morale   – an employee who is not motivated and feels unappreciated or bored is more likely to take sick days showing and increase in absenteeism.
  • reduced loyalty – an employee suffering from boreout is likely to have low levels of engagement and reduced loyalty to the company
  • the bottom line  – low morale and productivity impact business results
  • safety  and mistakes – disengagement which can cause mental health issues leads to lack of concentration which in turn leads people to make careless mistakes and even injuries.

Read: Are you ready for a professional emergency landing

Wijnand van Tilburg, Assistant Professor in Psychology at King’s College London, suggests that “boreout” is currently not a recognised condition psychological condition. But there is no doubt that people claim to be so bored at work they eventually are unable to get out of bed and face the day. They might start to self-medicate with food and alcohol until they exhibit physical symptoms which force them to consult osteopaths like Ian Tarlton.

Boreout is something that individual supervisors and managers can deal with to create a more meaningful workplace environment.  But has boreout always been there,and people just sucked it up and got on with it or did something about it?  Boreout is very real if you believe you are going through it. Ian’s advice:

I always tell them their fate is in their own hands and they have to change their lifestyle and sometimes that means changing your job. I can only treat the symptoms and not the underlying cause.

Positive outcomes

On a brighter note there can be positive outcomes to completing boring tasks. Joyce Petrina recounts:

It was sorting and filing hundreds of backlogged, unfilled financial statements for banks and private customers in a Danish Bank in Luxembourg. It was so bad I had to take over the board room’s long table and floor to get the job done. I do think that my willingness to do that tedious job led to the bank hiring me and getting my work papers in Luxembourg. Coming from the Bahamas where we def were not a member of the then EEC, it was extraordinary that the bank was able to do that for me. It changed my life.

Sally Lee is so mindful of her experiences as a finance assistant where she was bored witless that she says

“I am now mindful of my bad experience when I delegate or train others.”

Anyone who stays so long in a job which ultimately gives them health issues needs to seek help immediately. Ian Tarlton is absolutely right. The underlying causes have to be tackled .

If you are looking for a career or job change contact me NOW




Overwhelmed by a culture of overwork

Culture of overwork

The advancement of employment conditions was very much a characteristic of the 19th and 20th centuries to improve the lot of the working person. In 1926 the Ford Motor Company became one of the first companies in America to adopt a five-day, 40-hour week for workers in its automotive factories.

The 40 hour week became over time, a workplace norm in most developed countries over the course of the century, as a benchmark for employment organisation, with still further reductions in maximum working hours in some geographies. Education was seen as a way out of this type of treadmill. The more successful worked fewer hours than the average working person.

Twofold regression

Yet in the last decades, we have seen a regression, with some sectors gaining notoriety for boiler room pressure and cultures of overwork. In October 2014 Goldman Sachs introduced the concept of “Protect Saturday” insisting that junior analysts take Saturdays off (except when they were working on live deals.)  This was considered on Wall Street as almost revolutionary, but seems Dickensian in its thinking.

Further shifts

The arrival of technology, particularly the  smart phone, has produced what Josh Bersin of Deloitte calls the “overwhelmed employee.” Now we have an expectation of 24/7 connectivity, instant gratification and responsiveness as well as availability. We are seeing a blurring between personal and professional, and in work and out of it.

Ironically there has been another shift. 3 decades ago more highly qualified employees were less likely to work longer hours compared to lower paid and less qualified. A 2008 Harvard Business School survey of a thousand professionals found that 94% per cent worked 50 hours or more a week, and almost half worked in excess of 65 hours a week. Attributed to the Boomer work ethics  characterizing workplace culture, with their work centric focus on hierarchy, power and prestige, successful people now work longer hours than ever. But this doesn’t explain similar overwork cultures found in Silicon Valley.

The notion of the idle rich seems to have gone out of the window.

Education and upward mobility

Education has always been seen as the path to upward mobility. This is no longer always the case.  The flood of graduates onto the market has created a glut, which is not being matched by career opportunities. The arrival of zero hour contracts and the gig economy, is leaving many people  running a number of jobs simply to pay the bills. Marianne, a recent English graduate who is still looking for a job post graduation, works in a bar, a shop and a theatre, all on either a short- term, part-time or zero hours contracts.It’s exhausting, I never know if my hours are going to be cut, so I take all the work I can get to make sure I don’t have to move back to live with my parents. I’m not committed to overwork – I have to do it”  

New status symbol

. Time scarcity seems to have become a  corporate and cultural badge of success and an indicator of professional status. It is very much gender driven with overwork being intrinsic to male dominated corporate cultures.  Yet this is set against a backdrop of a chronic fall in employee engagement. Reports of a reduction in productivity, decreases in creativity and corresponding increases in days lost because of health issues are commonplace.

In some sectors where services offered are based on billable hours, such as consulting or law, there are few incentives to make people more effective and to work shorter hours. The productivity of knowledge workers is also much harder to evaluate. Martin an ex-corporate lawyer in a Magic Circle firm in London says “the culture of overwork is institutionalized and the only way to find any balance is to leave. The first document I had to sign when I started, was a waiver of the European Time Directive regulating upper hours working limits (48)”

He left aged 32, at a time when 80 hour weeks and working 48 hours without a break were his norm. He took a 30% drop in salary knowing that there would be a line of others queuing for his job, with the lure of partnership as the carrot. “Many are prepared to put in long hours just to stand a chance of making Partner and a 7 figure salary. This impacts family life and relationships because you have to do this from usually 28-40 which is a critical time in your life. For me the sacrifice wasn’t worth it”

Cultural change

What has to change is the cultural commitment to overwork which indeed penalizes anyone who wants to have some sort of family life. It particularly impacts women who leave organizations such as these, in their droves, or opt to stay in lower level jobs.  Some businesses compensate by providing corporate mindfulness training and concierge services and even sleeping pods.

But the question is, are they band aids which treat only the symptoms, rather than addressing the core cultural malaise? There is a reason the company does your laundry.

Initiatives to chip away at this regressive mind-set seem to be working. Employee engagement is a hot topic. Sweden is introducing 6 hour days to increase employee satisfaction and productivity. Goldman Sachs has even reported promoting a record number of women to Managing Director status, which might reflect a further sea change in thinking, as their senior echelons achieve greater gender balance.

What is needed is a corporate culture where people can thrive, both in the workplace and outside it. This is one area where gender balanced leadership teams would surely have an impact.

Are you caught up in the culture of overwork?