Feb
16
2009

Review: Boreout

Boreout How can I put this lightly? Boreout is, well, a boreout. This is the fourth book from the kind folks at Kogan Page.

When I first read the other reviews, Boreout!: Overcoming Workplace Demotivation by Philippe Rothlin & Peter Werder sounded like it had potential. It starts out with some statistics:

  • 87% of all German workers “feel only slightly if at all committed to their companies,” according to the Gallup organization
  • 33.2% of 10,000 employees at Salary.com and AOL in 2005 “declared that they did not have enough to do at work,” according to Salary.com and AOL
  • 44% of all unsatisfied employees are “understretched employees,” according to international employment agency Kelly Services

Unfortunately, these statistics seem to be the extent of the research done (or at least cited) by the authors. The rest of the book sinks into what feels like anecdotal evidence and fictional stories.

The Pros

Here is how this book defines “boreout”:

The term ‘boreout’ is composed of two words – ‘bore’ and ‘out’. This combination of words is meant to give the impression of having reached the limit of boredom. Thus an employee affected by boreout is bored out – incapable of being any more bored.

Boreout, as the opposite of burnout, consists of three elements: being understretched, uncommitted and bored in the workplace. Associated with these are long-term strategies of behavior that the employee adopts in order to appear overloaded and so keep work at arm’s length.

In all fairness, this issue is an important one for managers. Employees who don’t feel like they are contributing meaningfully sometimes disengage from their work. When this happens, some of them will lie and deceive to keep themselves employed while doing the minimally required work.

I’ve seen this happen. I’m sure you have too. Heck, just watch The Office and you’ll see some hilarious examples of it.

This book raises an awareness of this phenomenon and offers several potential solutions for employees experiencing boreout, such as seeking meaning to your work, finding the right balance between work time & free time, and ultimately quitting if things don’t get better.

As a manager, it’s important to think critically about your employees’ level of engagement and how you can help improve it. As an employee, it’s important to think critically about how you can make the best of your work environment by being proactive rather than reactive. Kudos to Rothlin and Werder for raising this issue.

The Cons

However, important as this issue is, this book does not satisfactorily address it. Anecdotal evidence is fine for some occasions, but I would prefer to see more studies backing up their claims and solutions.

The bibliography lists a handful of books and articles they’ve referenced, but the data still feels light. Perhaps there is just little data on this phenomenon? If that’s the case, I’d recommend the authors conduct their own detailed study into boreout and its solutions. That would really catapult them as true experts on this topic.

Both authors are business consultants, so I’m sure they’ve seen this phenomenon with their clients. The book jacket even claims they speak about boreout at conferences (so they’re already regarded as experts in some circles). Hopefully, that means they’ve solved this problem with actual clients before. Citing some actual case studies would go a long way to reinforcing the validity of this book.

The fictional stories used as examples feel contrived and forced. Granted, the authors aren’t trying to weave a hair-raising piece of fiction, but they fail to draw the reader in. Again, perhaps case studies could be used instead.

On the flip side, some chapters of this book aren’t written for managers; they are written for employees suffering from boreout. Such employees may respond to fictional stories better than case studies. But that would be another con – who exactly is the audience for this book?

Ultimately, I felt like this book could have easily been an article in a business magazine; it didn’t need to be a full book. I also couldn’t help wondering if the authors have a personal grudge against former colleagues who suffered from boreout and just decided to write about them (is the fictional character Alex really Philippe or Peter?).

Dare I say it? Yes, I was bored out reading Boreout. Hopefully you’re not feeling the same way at work.

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