It’s the dreaded phrase all parents hear that makes them want to pull their hair out –“I’m bored.” Boredom isn’t just a complaint of many an eight-year-old. It’s emerging as a key contributor to what people are calling “The Great Resignation.” Proactive leadership can make a difference.
Chances are, You’re Not Alone
The BBC recently had an article about the rise of a condition they call “boreout.” We’re much more familiar with its fellow work ailment, burnout. Boreout is defined as being bored by your work to the point that one feels it is meaningless. It can be created by an environment that feels demoralizing, by feeling underchallenged for a prolonged period of time, and, yes, from being confined to Zoom and the same four walls for months on end. Burnout and boreout have very similar impacts. Among them are higher turnover, checking-the-box behavior, lost productivity, decreased strategic thinking and innovation, and lost opportunity.
The difference between the two is that burnout can be seen as a badge of honor. You suffer from it because you’ve really been driven and making things happen. Suffering from boreout is perceived as not being motivated enough.
We probably can sense boreout quickly when (or if) it happens to our high performers and we will jump into to help them re-engage. For our poor performers, we assume they lack motivation. It can go unrecognized in the core of our team – those 60-80% who are good, solid performers who are less likely to actively voice what they are experiencing. Boreout among this group is going to have the most significant impact. That’s because of the sheer volume of that segment of our workforce… and because it goes undiagnosed for a longer period of time. But make no mistake, if you miss the signs of boreout with your top tier talent, or don’t address it effectively, it’s impact is obvious and has long-term leadership consequences. Top performers are more likely to leave because they know they have more career mobility.
We shouldn’t assume that boreout only happens to front-line team members. Senior leaders sometimes confide in me that they feel a strong need to find something new because they aren’t challenged by their role anymore. Our conversations then focus on how we can make that happen within their organization.
No matter what level of leader you’re managing, making it okay to talk about prolonged boredom or lack of challenge has to be the first step in addressing the issue. It’s not a sign that they are unmotivated. Actually, quite the opposite. Boredom means they’re motivated to do more. So, create relationships built on high levels of trust. Make sure there is the safety to talk about tough issues – boredom being only one of them. Let people know that you don’t see boredom as their failing, but as an opportunity to expand or change their role so that they have new challenges. The organization gains from their increased engagement, productivity and impact. Some people will still perform well, for a certain period of time, when bored. But don’t wait to check in until you see a drop off in performance, or worse, see talent walking out the door. Be proactive about it.