Battle ‘Boreout’ with Creativity and Motivation

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Much is written about burnout and resources put into tackling this destructive condition. But there is another state of mind flying under the radar, quietly threatening your team's productivity - boreout.


Boreout syndrome: first expounded in 2007 by Peter Werder and Philippe Rothlin who described the symptoms as being similar to burnout. However, boreout mainly evolves through mental underload at work, due to lack of either adequate quantitative or qualitative workload. While in some cases there has certainly been a lack in terms of the volume of work which could lead to boreout, it is more likely that sufferers experience boreout because they are having to do the work of furloughed colleagues that they cannot thrive on. For example, where managers and senior leaders have had to take on basic administrative functions, or find themselves doing the same mundane tasks ad nauseam.

While this was all very well and good during the almost adrenaline-fuelled early stages of the pandemic, enough is now enough. It’s boring, and it simply isn’t what these people signed up for.

How are your people behaving?

This is a really good time to get your people to do a McQuaig Word Survey®. You’ll discover whether they are behaving in a way at work that is outside of their comfort zone, and crucially, by how much. This level of stretch/squash is so important. For the most part we can stretch or squash our behaviours over a short to medium timeframe. But 12 – 18 months is too long a period to sustain a pattern of behaviour that is simply not ‘us’.

Burnout is one outcome. Boreout is the less well-known of the two ugly sisters in the workplace. Yet because it appears as less explosive or emotional, it is viewed as less of a threat to productivity. This is a dangerous assumption to make.

“Everyone prefers to have disorders that are socially considered. Someone who says I have so much to do … Is much more respected than someone who says he’s bored, has no responsibilities … Everyone says I want to trade with you – that’s great.”

Wolfgang Merkel, 2010

Those affected by boreout may:

  • lose the will to act at their usual professional and personal level
  • lose their self-esteem
  • live with the fear and anxiety that someone will discover their inactivity
  • suffer from imposter syndrome

This is all the worse when co-workers are out of sight, especially if they have a less hands-on manager. Some of course can shrug off inactivity, Take to the golf course and fill their timesheets with ‘admin’. Others will find these gaping holes in their work day utterly soul destroying.

This is a matter of motivation and resilience

“The paradox of boreout is that despite hating the situation, employees feel unable to ask for more challenging tasks, to raise the situation with superiors or even look for a new job.”

Peter Werder and Philippe Rothlin

Boreout will not resolve itself with time. It requires sustained external intervention.

When we understand our motivating factors we are able to make subtle changes that can have a huge impact. This is all the more powerful when tackled as a team, especially in the WFH workplace environment. When the whole team is able to understand what motivates each individual, it’s easier to work more collaboratively and support each other through the more boring tasks.

motivationflow® from flowprofiler® helps teams and individuals to develop their autonomy skills which enables them to feel more empowered and in control, even when carrying out mundane work. Perhaps it’s a question of better workload organisation or that they need more recognition for the work they do. Perhaps it’s a case of spending less time at the screen, just for the sake of being there. If you can do your expected seven hours in six, and do it well, then perhaps take that extra hour to do something that is less mundane and sets you up for the next day.

Team workshops will bring your teams together without singling anyone out. They will help to revive the bonhomie that is the glue which binds a great team together. We know from our own experience and host that just being in the same room has made a difference. Getting your teams together will help to break the vicious cycle of both burnout and boreout by reminding your people that they are part of something much bigger than their home office.

Re-introduce creativity

The recent sad passing of Dr Edward de Bono is a timely reminder of how important creativity is in the workplace. While creativity can still be done in the virtual workspace it does require a degree more effort and drive to be successful. Creativity fuels motivation which of course fuels further creativity, and so on. But it takes an intervention injection to kickstart this cycle. It certainly won’t happen if your people are under the cosh of burnout or boreout.

If you are able to get your people together safely, a Six Thinking Hats® or Creative Teams session is an easy to implement intervention that will not only revive the latent creativity in your people but also help them to put their motivation skills into action. There is always room for improvement in any organisation. These sessions give your people the space to create and put forward their game changing suggestions.

What we’re saying here is that there is no one cure-all for either boreout or burnout. It requires a multi pronged approach, delivered over time. Think about what it will take for your people to be happier and more productive at work. The answer is rarely more hours on the job – it’s nearly always better, more motivated and creative hours as part of a high-performing team, wherever it may be.

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eqflow® and associated marks are registered trademarks of Chalmers International Limited | All rights reserved

resilienceflow® and associated marks are registered trademarks of Chalmers International Limited | All rights reserved

motivationflow® and associated marks are registered trademarks of Chalmers International Limited | All rights reserved

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