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  • Writer's pictureMaitreyee Patki

Musings of a bored employee

It was my final year of undergraduate studies at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. I was whiling away time in the anthropology department office as we often did after class hours. A friend and fellow anthropology classmate, walked in and told me about her trip to Mumbai University to get some paperwork done. She had bumped into our second-year anthropology professor, Eddie who had recently quit St. Xavier’s and moved onto teaching master’s students at Mumbai University.


She told me about her chat with him, where she asked if he was liking his new job. And he had replied with, “Yes, I like it. The peon gets me two cups of tea to my desk every day. What more could I want?”


We were stumped. Us, 20-year-olds, at the precipice of joining the workplace the next year couldn’t fathom how our much loved and respected, and brilliant professor Eddie could reduce a job down to the joy of getting two cups of tea a day!


We thought jobs were so much more than that. Hell, we had been thinking about what we wanted to be, and where we would go next, and how we would change the world! Every conversation with classmates, teachers, and parents in that final year was about the jobs we would take up and the mighty things we would do when we enter the workplace.


We laughed at Eddie that day. What a fool, we thought.


Today, it’s been about 13 years that I have been in the workplace. And I wish I could sit down with Eddie, buy him a cup of tea, and tell him that ‘I get it now’. The drudgery is real. Two cups of tea, delivered to my desk daily would easily be the highlight of my day.


This drudgery seems universal. So universal that not only do a lot of my friends feel it, but also halfway across the world, in Afghanistan, the Taliban feel the same way. Apparently, they are quiet quitting. Yes, you read that right.


After US forces evacuated, the Taliban has been forced to give up their thrilling jihadist routines and fitted into government roles instead. And the mundaneness of office work is getting to them too. Supposedly, they have been unhappy about the rules to be followed (“be in office by 8, else lose your day’s salary”), the need to ‘clock in hours’, and the imposition of hierarchy as everyone is now in the pursuit of money, titles, and the perks they bring. A TikTok comment put it aptly: the US couldn’t deflate the Taliban, but office work is managing to do just that.


But why is it so boring?


Experts at The School of Life, founded by philosopher Alain de Boton, explain that modern work has gotten boring because it requires that we keep doing the same thing every day. The economy demands that we be specialists although deep down, we would be more fulfilled if we could be endlessly curious generalists. It references our childhood where we all have likely engaged in a ton of pretend play. In a single day we would be doctors, chefs, astronauts, vets, painters, and more. We wanted to be so much more but were reduced to a single choice, and then made to do that same thing repeatedly.


The character of Ved, in Bollywood director Imtiaz Ali’s Tamasha, also seemed to share a similar sentiment. Ved, while in his role as a product manager at MCM Tech, felt trapped, purposeless, and bereft of ‘life’. The same old routine, from waking up to an alarm clock, to driving to work on the same route every day, to boot licking his boss, to presenting mundane and jargon ridden presentations that made no real sense ate at him. But in his alter ego as Don, where he could be anything, anyone, and anyhow, he thrived.


It's not just the repetitiveness and mundaneness that bores you down. It could also be that one is overqualified, underutilized, or just not finding that fit between one’s own desires and talents versus what the job demands. There’s also the likelihood that hierarchical structures add to the boredom as at times they stifle independence, agency, and creativity. Or even, as we increasingly see in the work world, a disconnect with the organizational purpose that then triggers disengagement and subsequently boredom.


Is boring bad?


Apparently yes.


There’s been research into boredom, which while new and unconcluded, tags boredom as an emotion. And just as how other emotions prompt specific responses – e.g. fear alerting us to something potentially harmful – boredom too informs us that a situation is not aligning with our desires and drives, by producing feelings of uneasiness and discomfort.


Not all boredom is bad. In small doses, as a short-term, low-grade feeling, it is even somewhat healthy. It’s like downtime for the mind, putting it into a rest mode and potentially helping us recharge. So for brief moments of boredom – like when you need to do the dishes, or rounds of laundry, or administrative tasks at work, it’s perfectly alright to feel bored.


But just like other emotions, a prolonged, persistent, and chronic sense of boredom is when it gets problematic. In context of work, constant sense of boredom can feel like one is ‘languishing’, feeling a sense of stagnation and emptiness. One feels unstimulated and unfocused. This drone of dissatisfaction has been associated with anxiety, loss of attention, social withdrawal, and even a lot of stress which in turn is associated with burnout and even cardiovascular diseases.


‘Boreout’ is as real, and as deserving of attention as a ‘burnout’. In fact, there’s entire industries where people secretly believe that the job they work doesn’t need to be done.


Does it have to be boring?


Well, to be fair, maybe not. For a big part of my years in the workplace, I worked in jobs that really kept me on my toes. When people asked what my line of work was like, I recall responding with, “At times, too exciting. But never boring!”. Then, after a decade of ‘too much excitement’ that essentially led to a burnout, I made a transition into a different space. The new job was a lot more ‘chill’. Less drama, less travel, less crazy deadlines, and the same few things to do every day. At first, it felt great, like a spa after all that burnout. But now, three years in, it’s reached the point of a boreout.


So maybe, it’s the job? Like the Taliban, who were likely never bored when they had a life filled with thrill planning attacks and retreat strategies in novel locations as opposed to now, when they have rather mundane office jobs that feel like a ‘trapping’. Or like Ved, who finally managed to work things through and happily went back to being ‘Don 2’ in the end.


But life is often not that simple. Finding that balance – a job exciting enough, aligned with your desires and values, stimulating enough to keep you engaged and far away from a boreout yet not so all consuming that it leads to burnout – is rather hard to say the least.


So, what can we do?


Well, there’s a lot that could be done by organizations. Such as ensuring ‘boreouts’ are equally a part of mental health conversations at work just as ‘burnouts’ are. Or communicating your organization’s purpose and the value and impact you bring to people’s lives, so employees can have a clear sense of fulfilment. Or giving employees the freedom to ‘craft’ their jobs and empowering them to pursue those.


But even if none of that were to happen, there’s a few concrete things we ourselves can do to overcome this boreout.

Setting aside time for passion projects.


If you work for Google, allegedly they allow you to set aside 20% of your time to work on innovative projects. But if you don’t work in an organization that supports something like this, plan your life to make time for your passion projects.


There’s a friend of mine, who planned his life such that he could pursue his passion project – slow travel. He not only managed leaves at work to do so, but also found ways to work around finances. Today, outside of his successful work life, he’s had over 200 podcasts of his show ‘Why We Travel’. I am looking at you Utsav. Quite admirable.

Expand your skill set.


A boreout might be a good time to consider a career change. Spend this time deepening your self-awareness – What do you really need and desire? What aligns with your values, your skill sets? Maybe it’s time to jump into a new sector, or to learn new skills and up your game because you are ready for more or for something different.


As for me, I am going to do just that. Use this boreout to introspect and find out what I really need, and then go do just that.


If you are a victim of boreout too, I hope this helped, and that reading it didn’t bore you more.







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