Bored at work? Read this.
A third of all U.S. workers struggle with 'boreout.' But there are remedies.
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"Work is slow, and we're a small company, so it's not always easy to find other things to do," Ms. Haase says. To fill empty moments, she e-mails friends and works on freelance writing assignments. "The Internet is my friend – anything to make the time pass," she says, adding that the strain of having too little to do creates its own kind of burnout.
Now there's a name for this kind of underemployment: boreout. In a new book, "Boreout! Overcoming Workplace Demotivation," authors Philippe Rothlin and Peter Werder call it a pervasive problem. Studies show that one-third of workers in the United States do not have enough to do. Underchallenged employees spend more than two hours a day on personal matters. Employers waste over $5,000 a year per worker on boreout.
The authors, business consultants in Europe, explain that boreout, the opposite of burnout, consists of three elements: being "understretched," uncommitted, and bored in the workplace.
Many underutilized employees ask for more work after starting a new job, says Mr. Werder, of Zurich. "But after one year, although they hate boreout, they stop asking, because no one takes it seriously." Aware that they cannot simply sit at their desks and stare into space, many workers devise strategies to look busy. That often involves technology. "Mobile phones, the Internet, and e-mail make it much easier to pretend to work, to hide that you do not have enough work," Werder says.
For Haase, the road to boreout began after she graduated from college with degrees in journalism and Spanish. Saddled with student loans and needing a paycheck, she took her current job two years ago. "When I was hired, they saw my skill set and said they would use it," she says. "But I'm in my receptionist bubble, and they're not necessarily willing to let me try to do anything more."
Megan Rothman, a marketing copywriter near Charlotte, N.C., describes herself as underchallenged. "One reason I took this position was because I was told we would all wear many hats because we are a small, private company," she says. But after she was hired, that never happened.
"I have asked to take on additional responsibilities or projects that may be outside the typical range of my job description, but my boss doesn't seem to be willing to accommodate me," Ms. Rothman says. "I have lots of skills besides writing, but none of them are being taken advantage of."
As unemployment rates soar, Haase, Rothman, and others who feel underworked are quick to express appreciation for having a job and a paycheck. At the same time, workplace specialists emphasize the importance of remaining committed and connected to their employer.