Is there such a thing as 'bore out'? What can HR do?


I read this article today on the BBC website (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-36195442) and wondered what other colleagues have experienced in their organisations?

I have read about bore out before in the context of motivation theory before, but it is interesting to consider it as a potential area for litigation. The ramifications of a successful case would be significant in the context of many office based roles in this country and globally.

What do we think the responsibility is for an organisation to provide meaningful and stimulating work? Is well-being the sole responsibility of the employer when employees find their role boring or should employees take responsibility for finding roles that suit them? With increasing automation, could bore-out be a thing of the past, or will new way of working make more tasks increasingly restrictive and more susceptible to employee disengagement?

I suspect that this case will be difficult to win for the claimant, but it is interesting to speculate on the potential fallout. I can definitely see an increasnig role for HR in supporting employees with work based counselling and other ways of creating variety and stimulation in the workplace.

I think this topic can probably fit in a few areas so happy for it to be moved if it is deemed more appropriate elsewhere.

I look forward to reading different perspectives!



  • There is no sensible head of claim here in the UK and I would suggest no chance of success in a UK court.

    Its a silly season story,

    There is a role for HR in helping organisations get the best out of their people by creating engaging and as far as possible stimulating jobs. But I see no role for HR in "counselling" employees

    But perhaps we ought to be more focused on say the production line worker doing a mindless repetitive task multiple times a day rather than a discontented office worker looking for self enlightenment.
  • In reply to Keith:

    Thanks for your response Keith

    I agree that it seems very unlikely in the current climate that any successful claim based on 'bore out' (especially in the UK), but I don't necessarily agree that it is completely 'silly season'.

    I think we can agree that we are in the midst of a shift in the nature of human roles in organisations with the rapid development of automation and technological advances to replace human analytical roles. As such, I can definitely see a point in the future where a significant proportion of the current traditional '37 hours per week' role is actually surplus to requirements and could create gaps/periods in the working week that are aptly described as 'boring'.

    The implications for the effects of automation are explored in this really interesting debate by intelligence squared: www.youtube.com/watch

    My point relating to counselling or coaching was more in terms of creating a function or referral pathway within an organisation rather than expecting HR to take on that responsibility. I agree that HR professionals should not be performing counselling themselves unless actually qualified to do so in a separate capacity.

    Production line workers are certainly going to be increasingly under threat through automation. I suspect that their roles will be replaced rather than retained (with periods of boredom) given the principles of efficiency and lean methods. This seems to be a longer term trend for such roles. For those people, the the world of work is changing entirely with the search for alternative employment being the new emphasis.

    I think it will be the 'disconnected office worker' that will be increasingly subject to changes in their role and responsibilities (and potentially bore out). One question that I think this area raises is the whole concept of the standard working week. I wonder if debates around full time hours will become more prevalent? Sweden's 30 hour working week will be interesting to review as changing the balance between work time and personal time may be the answer to this question.
  • In reply to Mark Gatto:

    I think you slightly misunderstand my point about factory workers - the point is were we concerned at "bore out" (and sorry think it is a silly season story) when factory workers did a boring repetitive job 40+ hours a week 48+ weeks of the year? No they just got on with it and we weren't too concerned.

    Now it "affects" office workers it has a name and a syndrome.
  • In reply to Keith:

    I agree with you that the initial focus of that story is in the 'silly season' bracket and I am in no way condoning the self interested action of suing his employer for boredom at work. With this thread, I am not really concerned about precious employees and their 'bore out' claims, though I can see the potential for negative impacts beyond thumb twiddling. I am more interested in the implications of such experiences on the future of the norms of the idea of work in society. You are right that this issue is not new and that many people have endured years of monotonous work without complaint, but I see this scenario as slightly different.

    Sustaining a 40 hour per week employment pattern for the majority of the working age population is something that is directly under threat by rapid advances in technology. Production line workers in western society accepted the daily monotony for the promise of regular employment and often the enhanced pay packet they were offered (Fordism). In many areas, office workers are sustaining the illusion of wall to wall productivity in the face of increasing gaps in the need for their input in a day to day business operation. In this context, the 'new' phenomenon of 'bore out' is something concealed yet incendiary to the direction of an organisation.

    From an HR perspective, I wonder if this was something that organisations are aware of and can target or whether it is difficult to identify? My organisation are currently undergoing a restructure with centralisation and automation being major proponents of the plan. I think this has been a theme across many public sector organisations. Cost saving and increasing efficiency are often cited as drivers and I wonder if a bi-product will be to ask more of employees and therefore address the 'bore out' problem through sheer demands on employee time. Longer term, is that sustainable for the wider population? Technology will make work practices more and more efficient with less and less need for human input. Where will all the extra time go?

    Sorry for the ramblings, I find this area rather interesting.
  • In reply to Mark Gatto:

    Hi Mark

    I think economics and social policy face cataclysmic technology-driven changes, sooner rather than later: we have already experienced the beginnings, perhaps. Clinging to the way we were brought up and the way things are and were is just denial of a looming crisis and a recipe for disaster - we as a society need to plan and seek to regulate the future.

    Think too that you're highlighting the 'bullshit jobs' and their rapid proliferation as in this excellent survey


    Although excellent as far as it goes, I don't think the above survey takes into full account the equally-critical matter of social policy, which ultimately comes down to values and politics.


    is I think critically relevant for example
  • In reply to David:

    The way in which organisations operate is changing and will change rapidly in the forseeable future. The concept of "bore-out" only takes on importance when people expect their work to" have a purpose" and really want something out of it - over and above being paid enough to meet their expectations.

    I have the profound conviction that a great number of people don't come to work with an objective of self actualisation and professional growth. They work because they need to finance the personal life that they want to live. I know many people who find their "self actualisation" via activities that are nothing to do with their working activities, and for them work is not the focal point of their life, merely a means to an end. In these circumstances they are totally capable of performing more than adequately in their work rôle, and some of them would be stressed by the idea of taking on additional responsibilities which would eat away their personal time.

    One thing we have seen since the advent of hunter gatherers and the industrial revolution is that as efficiency increases, different added value activities (and work ) emerge; in the last 30 years they have more service related. What they will be in the next 10 years is anyone's guess, but I am confident that society will adjust its modus operandi to find a new balance.

  • I'm afraid Ray's 1st & 2nd paragraph sums it up for me.

    There are numerous jobs which would, for many, be totally and utterly boring. But for many of those who do them, its just a means to an end. (I've done jobs like that). They have little ambition beyond making 'enough money' and thats that.

    There are of course those who take responsibility and do something about it. You either get promoted if thats possible for a potato picker, or start again, re-educate yourself, and so on, and find more meaningful work.

    Having been one of those who were 'bored out' and often cried from the mind numbingly boredem & frustration of it all, I never considered it a management problem. It was mine!! If you blame others you don't take responsibility for your own ability to actually get off your arse and do something you enjoy.

    There will always be mind numbingly boring jobs and for many of those there isn't a thing that can be done to alter the fact.
  • In reply to Ray:

    I agree with your view David, many people do 'work to live' rather than the inverse. I like your point about 'value added' activity and I think this is one of the major arguments against doom mongering from anti technology/automation theorists. I think the concept of working to live is fine in principle, but in a value added economy this is potentially a mindset that will be pressurised more and more.

    I'm probably in between your optimistic stance and the fearful position of others. Current advances in technology are so rapid and wide ranging that we can't possibly comprehend how significant their effect might be. Most organisations are desperately scrambling to keep up with some of the less radical advances (the NHS still use Fax!).

    The recent Labour investigation into universal income: www.theguardian.com/.../john-mcdonnell-labour-universal-basic-income-welfare-benefits-compass-report is certainly something that I believe has merit in a redefined global world of work. If such a scheme ever became policy and law, it would pave the way for reduced working hours and erosion of the standard weekly routine. That would certainly raise questions of the influence of boredom on society and the workplace. I think those with power and influence will be major players in defining what direction modern society heads in.
  • In reply to David Perry:

    Hi David

    Thanks for your response. On your final point, I wonder if automation and technology might replace the majority of mind numbing jobs that are prevalent today. If that was the case, the auto pilot attitudes of some workers may be challenged in the value added economy that Ray mentioned.

    I definitely agree that being bored shouldn't be the responsibility of the employer to resolve. In the current context, employees have choice and can often proactively change their circumstances and mindset. However, there are anecdotal side effects mentioned in that BBC report that would fall under the employer's remit to address such as stress and absenteeism.
  • In reply to Mark Gatto:

    Machines may well replace digging/sorting spuds. But I spent 7 years working as a scaffolder. Most of it was tedious and I can't say it was particularly taxing on my brain. I doubt a machine will be able to replace a human doing that. ;-)
  • In reply to David Perry:

    In the same vein David I expect mechanical pall-bearers will be socially unacceptable at most funerals, and robotic music is unlikely to be an viable replacement to jazz enthusiasts in a New Oleans Club who want a spntaneous interaction with the players.
    All or nothing analysis needs to be put to one side, with an acceptance that things will change but that we cannot - at this stage - imagine the fuller d├ętails.
  • In reply to David Perry:

    David - you are right - but then robotic construction workers wont need scaffolding!