Boreout: can you actually get sick from boredom?

Boreout: can you actually get sick from boredom?

Can you really be sick from boredom? The experts’ answer is yes!

We all know the symptoms, causes and extremely damaging consequences of burnout, but fewer of us actually know what boreout is. Although boreout has been getting much less attention than its “famous” cousin burnout, many experts warn that it is not less dangerous and can also lead to serious health issues, both mental and physical.

So, what actually is boreout?

I believe that awareness is the key to tackling any problem, and it is no different when it comes to knowing what boreout is. While burnout is related and often caused by stress coming from not being able to manage your workload, working extra hours, and not maintaining the balance between private life and work, boreout, on the other hand, is linked to having work underload. It is not only related to not having enough work but also the quality of the work.

Boreout happens when:

  • Your daily activities seem not only boring but meaningless to you
  • Your work does not present any (valid) challenges
  • You are not interested in the content of your job, your company’s activities, etc.
  • You feel what you do is not being seen and appreciated

The coronavirus pandemic has only amplified the problem of boreout, due to people being isolated from each other and needing to be responsible for setting their own work’s structure and spending hours, not to mention all the days and months in Zoom calls surrounded by the same four walls day-in and day-out.

Additionally, the coronavirus crisis has forced many people to reevaluate their career choices, and often this has led to them admitting that they do not want to pursue the old path anymore.

What are the symptoms of boreout?

Although the origins of boreout are very different from burnout, both share quite a few of the same symptoms. The most common ones being insomnia, anxiety and even depression. The problem is that people often do not recognise boreout and slide into it without actually noticing how and when it exactly happened.

Whenever you notice any symptoms or get the slightest feeling you might be suffering from boreout (or burnout), please do not take it lightly and contact your GP. Part of the problem is that people won’t talk openly about the issue - they feel it's taboo.

While talking about burnout is overall accepted and often a sign of taking your job much too seriously, having a boreout could be causing feelings of shame and guilt, with people being labelled by the employer as “lazy," “uninterested,” and “unmotivated." It’s not something many people would openly want to talk about.

What are the dangers of boreout?

The dangers of boreout can be pretty obvious for the person themselves - boreout can take a serious toll on your physical and mental health, having serious consequences for your private life. But there are dangers to be noted on the company’s side as well - employees calling in sick, leaving their jobs, resulting in a high turnover, resulting in high costs, loss of unrecognised talent. Put simply; the company will lose people and money.

What can organisations do about boreout?

Well, a lot actually! Start with making the topic open for discussion and promoting the atmosphere of openness and breaking the taboos. Employers should also put much more effort and money into promoting mental health topics and offering workshops around these issues. Another important aspect is empathic leadership. Not all jobs can be made extremely exciting, some jobs are tedious, but all employees deserve to be appreciated and shown by the company’s leaders that what they do is being seen and valued.

What can you do about it?

As mentioned above, the first step starts with admitting that you might be suffering from boreout syndrome. Removing feelings of guilt and shame out of the equation is the next important step. This will make it easier for you to talk about the problem. As with every other problem, you can start working on it when you can communicate it to others and actually admit you need help.

Again, as mentioned, reach out to your doctor, do not wait until you slide too deep down - the quicker you start working on your health, the better and easier it will get.

Once serious symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety and depression are tackled, you can start working on what it actually means to you to have meaningful work. Here I have written another article on how to go about finding one’s purpose. Realise it is never too late for a career change. One of my biggest revelations when I was making a career change at the age of 32, was that people who studied with me were twice as old as I was (yes, 64 years old).

Please remember, prevention is always easier than treatment, so if you already have the slightest feeling you might be going on that sliding path to boreout in a couple of months or years, do not wait until it happens. Treat yourself and your health seriously and reach out for help!

Dorota Klop-Sowinska


Dorota Klop-Sowinska

Official Member of Forbes Coaches Council. I specialize in international career and expat coaching. I am the author of the book Career Jump! How to Successfully Change Your Professional Path...

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