What happens when we’re chronically bored at work?

There was so much I wanted to pick up on at the end of my conversation with fire fighter Emma Young (COMEBACK COACH episode 86) about her experience of being taken off frontline duties when she was pregnant and returning to the fire service after maternity leave. I really felt for Emma as she described the lack of clarity on what she and other fire-fighters who are put onto modified duties are meant to be doing and the lack of stretch and challenge.  Being underwhelmed or under-stretched at work is a problem.


Re-framing is key to boring maths lessons…and budget meetings?

Back in 2010 German researchers explored three different ways students coped with maths lessons they found boring. The first way of responding was what the researchers labelled as  RE-APPRAISAL. This is where students considered the value of maths and changed their view of the situation. The second group were labelled CRITICIZERS who tried to improve the situation by suggesting changes to the teacher; and a third group were referred to as EVADERS, who tried to avoid boredom by occupying themselves with something else. So which group do you think fared best? The results showed that the reappraising group was the least bored overall, and also experienced the most positive outcomes when it came to emotions and motivation. They enjoyed maths more and experienced the lowest levels of anxiety.

My thoughts on this study and how it applies to the workplace is that RE-APPRIAISING or ‘reframing’ can be an effective strategy but only for so long.

I wonder if you’ve heard the term boreout?

Boreout is chronic boredom caused by a prolonged feeling of being under-challenged and/or feeling there’s no point to your work.

In a study of 11,000 Finnish workers at 87 organisations in 2014  the researchers found that chronic boredom “increased the likelihood of employees’ turnover and early retirement intentions, poor self-rated health and stress symptoms”.

6 years later the findings of a study into boreout were published in the International Journal of Business & management Studies. The study looked at the experience of 186 employees in Turkish companies and found positive association between boreout, depression, stress, and anxiety.

Progress is key to good days at work

Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer explain in their book The Progress Principle that our best days at work are the ones where we feel we have made meaningful progress. They analysed 12,000 diary entries from 238 employees in 7 companies to discover the states of inner work life and the workday events that correlated with the highest levels of creative output. From their analyses, Amabile & Kramer uncovered two key forces that enable a sense of progress:

  1. CATALYSTS – these are events that directly facilitate project work, such as clear goals and autonomy and
  2. NOURISHERS – these are interpersonal events that uplift us. Things like encouragement and demonstrations of respect and collegiality.

These two things, catalysts and nourishers are things line managers need to see as their work as people leaders.

And talking of line managers…

Emma used the word ‘lucky’ several times in reference to her station commander – her line manager essentially. ‘Luck’ is something that really shouldn’t come into the experience people have when they return to work after a break. Yes, line managers vary as all humans do in their natural ability to demonstrate warmth and care and interest BUT there are certain things all line managers can and should do to enable their team member to come back to their role and feel comfortable as quickly as possible. It’s why all of the work we do with returning employees includes an education piece for the line manager. This includes a 1:1 upskill session with the same coach who is coaching the returning team member; online resources and a pithy, practical written guide line managers can refer to. If you think the experience of returning to work could be better in your organisation, please complete this very short form to introduce us to your HR team or e-mail You just tell us who we should be talking to and we’ll take care of the rest.