Episode 13: Fighting Burnout and Bore out at work

September 1st, 2021 by Yvonne Harris

In this episode of Welcome to the New Normal, we discuss burnout.

Burnout is a growing problem for companies, that’s being exacerbated by remote working. Just as serious is “Bore out”, a phenomenon where employees are climbing the walls for want of something interesting to do. Why are these two phenomena so damaging to companies, and what can be done to fight them? What’s needed is better leadership, communication, and imagination from bosses.

Tune in to the Welcome to the New Normal audio podcast now and follow along with the script below.

News

For many of us, 2020 and 2021 have been years of relentless stress

We’ve been balancing work while looking after children, often unable to get away for a well-earned rest, and unable or unwilling to drag ourselves away from our screen and those constant, nagging alerts.

It shouldn’t be the case, but if you’re listening to this, you know it’s true.

An email at 9 pm? Yes, I’ll respond to it now, even if it takes me half an hour.

All this stress, the inability to draw a line in the sand between work and all the other things that give life meaning, can, for too many of us, lead to burnout.

So, what is burnout exactly?

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.

It makes you feel overwhelmed, drained, and unable to meet constant demands.

And consequently, it leaves you unmotivated and wondering why you took on a role in the first place.

Paradoxically, the causes of burnout are often exactly what businesses want – drive to succeed, working relentless hours – HOWEVER, the impact on business is far from desirable.

US Customer Relationship Management company HubSpot wants to do something about it, and it may be worth other companies – and workers – paying attention.

First of all, they recognized that it’s a problem.

Which is A good first start…

And now they’ve launched an employee program called HubSpot unplugged.

What is it? And I hope it doesn’t involve endless Zoom calls?

HubSpot Unplugged is an initiative driven by employee feedback, which includes three key components to helping with burnout:

First, they are giving all their employees a Global Week of Rest: making July 5th – July 9th a company holiday week for all employees to take time off and recharge.

I hope they didn’t take this off their annual leave allowance!

They’ve also discouraged (not banned) internal meetings on Fridays – to help combat Zoom fatigue and restore some of that positive Friday energy.

They’ll also be doing More Mental Health Programming for employees to listen, learn, and identify ways to prioritize their mental health at work.

Sounds great, right? A week off in July, no internal meetings on Fridays?

On the HubSpot site, there are plenty of positive testimonies about employees taking time to catch up on reading, do some yoga, spend time with the kids…

But here’s my favorite: Marketing Manager Shana Sumers Principal Marketing Manager, Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging Community Programs said that:

“Knowing that everyone I work with will also be resting takes a lot of pressure off of the potential for emergencies, last-minute items to answer, or FOMO, that famous Fear of Missing out that we covered in a previous episode.

Yes, Fear of Missing out on all the excitement at work.

But what if there’s no real excitement? What if work is just a drag?

Research

So, we all know about burnout… And many of us have come pretty close.

But what about “Bore-Out”? Well, apparently it’s every bit as pernicious and damaging as burnout, and something has to be done about it.

So, what exactly is “bore-out”?

Well, according to Bryan Lufkin, writing on the BBC’s Worklife ‘guide to getting ahead in a changing world”, its chronic boredom, pure and simple.

…Lufkin writes that working in a demoralizing physical environment like a cubicle farm, or feeling under-challenged over a prolonged period, produces a feeling of meaninglessness, that the work doesn’t really have any purpose, that there’s no point” …

There’s also Zoom syndrome, constantly attending meeting after meeting in the same drab environment and feeling that nothing you do makes the slightest bit of difference.

Lufkin interviewed a number of researchers to get to the bottom of this phenomenon (which most of us will have experienced at some stage in our lives).

One of these researchers is Lotta Harju, a professor of organizational behavior at EM Lyon Business School, France who’s a specialist in both burn-out and bore-out…

According to Harju, Bore-out breaks down into three categories, “being terribly bored, having a crisis of growth and having a crisis of meaning”.

And it has serious consequences: depression, and anxiety, insomnia to headaches.

Read more about digital wellbeing

It also “increases the likelihood of employee turnover and early retirement intentions, poor health, and stress.

And managers are often completely unaware that’s happening under their noses…

Why’s that? Workers who realize they’re experiencing burnout may also be reluctant to flag it up as an issue to line managers or human resources.

And that’s because while burnout is a result of activity that employers actually appreciate and reward, such as overwork, and drive

Bore out “reflects a lack of interest, a lack of motivation”, says Harju. “These are very much taboo in organizations.”

So, what to do about it?

Well, the obvious answer is to find something more interesting to do.

But what tends to happen, Harju told the BBC, is that employees just turn up to work, browse the internet, chat with colleagues, buy stuff online, catch up with a series…

Can you blame them? Well not according to Harju, who says doing these people aren’t necessarily lazy but adopt these behaviors as “coping mechanisms” – a way to stop going mad from boredom.

So, what should employers do?

Well, first off, they need to recognize that it’s a real problem, and if they don’t fix it, they’re going to lose people, who quite understandably want something else…

Not only should employers try to inject more meaning into repetitive, boring jobs, but they should also do more to make workers feel more involved, even when it’s impossible to change what they’re actually expected to do.

Harju says that other aspects of work, such as having good relationships at the workplace or feel appreciated by the employer, can to some extent compensate for and bring meaning to tedious work.

And that means leadership.

Number

This week’s number is 4 – and that’s for a four-day week!

If working long hours is leading you to burnout, or even bore out, there might be some light on the horizon in the far north.

Researchers in Iceland say that a four-year trial of a four-day week has been an “overwhelming success.

During the trials, workers were paid exactly what they were getting for five days…

And productivity remained the same or improved in the majority of workplaces, researchers said.

The trials were run by Reykjavík City Council with more than 2,500 workers, including preschools, offices, social service providers, and hospitals.

Since then, unions have renegotiated working conditions, and now 86% of Iceland’s workforce have either moved to shorter hours for the same pay or will have the right to do so.

Unsurprisingly, workers reported feeling less stressed and at risk of burnout and said their health and work-life balance had improved.

Time to talk to the boss, I think!

Thanks very much for tuning in. You can follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube for the latest news on the podcast, and don’t forget to subscribe to us on your favorite podcast streaming program.

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