Science & Tech

Burnout v boreout: What's the difference?

Burnout v boreout: What's the difference?

We're living in an age where breaking point at work is being acknowledged and medically recognised – mainly because it's become so prevalent that it simply cannot be ignored.

Most people have heard of burnout. It has almost become a characteristic of our age due to the gap between our shared ideals about work and the reality of our jobs.

Dr Jeff Foster, Medical Director & Male Health Lead, at H3 Health defined the condition as "the physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress." He added that more people are being signed off work with burnout, work stress or anxiety than ever before because it can become "really unhealthy to the point of unsafe."

The common symptoms tend to consist of "tiredness, fatigue, irritability, stress, anxiety, and sleeplessness, poor motivation, decreased sex drive, feelings of helplessness and despair."

According to the World Health Organization, burnout comprises three components: exhaustion, cynicism, and diminished performance.

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What about 'boreout' – and is it really a thing?

Believe it or not, being bored at work can have damaging consequences. The key distinguishing factor between burnout and boreout is feeling overworked VS feeling unfulfilled.

Boreout is a psychological disorder that can result in physical illness. It is caused by "mental underload at the workplace due to lack of either adequate quantitative or qualitative workload - so not being pushed enough", says Dr Foster.

With boreout, a lack of intellectual stimulation can lead to feelings of disinterest, feelings of worthlessness and depression.

Factors that can trigger the condition include feeling under-challenged or working on a repetitive task without any opportunity for variety.

Paula Allen, Global Leader and Senior Vice-President of Research and Total Wellbeing at LifeWorks, said: "Employers who are set to continue working from home should be especially conscious of boreout.

"Engaging with employees who are working from home and keeping them motivated will be a challenge for management moving forward."

How can symptoms be alleviated?

Despite their differences, treating the conditions can be pretty similar – though alleviating burnout symptoms is arguably trickier. It comes down to self-reflection and stepping back to evaluate what is achievable VS what is not and disconnecting from work pressure. If symptoms persist or worsen, it is advised to see a professional.

With boreout, new and interesting challenges at work can help evoke enthusiasm. "These can be set by management through setting short term goals and willingness to stretch," Allen explained. "This can restore the sense of achievement in your work."

It is vital to communicate with your employer if you experience symptoms of any two of the conditions. While the conversation may initially feel challenging, it will allow both parties to understand better and make room for potential adjustments.

Allen said: "Employers should recognise that since the pandemic, there has been an increased appetite for employees to have more flexibility and control of their lives.

"Trying to create a more horizontal culture ultimately comes down to communication, but as speaking out to management can be quite daunting for employees, businesses should consider means such as surveys and focus groups to engage employees in the betterment of the workplace."

Mental health needs to be on par with physical health. If not, such conditions will only manifest further.

"There is still a stigma regarding mental health issues and needs," Allen added. "Our Mental Health Index found that nearly half of UK employees (47 per cent) report doing their job when feeling unwell (physically or psychologically) at least one day per week.

"Many work this way for long periods of time without seeking help."

She concluded that in order to combat this, employers need to follow through with "ongoing messaging on mental health, showing empathy and offer confidential support."

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