Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Bored to Death

Most workers have ups and downs, stuff they like about their jobs, stuff they hate and stuff that just fills the time and is simply tolerable. There is almost always routine drudgery associated with even the most exciting jobs. Test pilots may grip the stick of their experimental jet in passionate moments of professional risk, but then they have to fill out those pages and pages of flight logs and evaluative documentation. Medical records and insurance forms go along with the most complex and skilled surgeries. Factory workers often engage in repetitive tasks, no matter how skilled they may be, and some folks have backbreaking toil in truly horrible jobs. Want to work in a slaughterhouse?
But sometimes unyielding routine, so much same old-same old, aggregates over time to destroy your soul, eat away at your basic reason for living. The “is that all there is?” moment. “Boredom expert Dr. Sandi Mann says workplace boredom is a growing problem and a ‘significant source of stress’ for many people.
“It can have ‘severe’ consequences including reduced life expectancy, she says, highlighting a study of 7,000 UK civil servants which found very bored workers were more likely to die during a 24-year research period than those who were not bored.
“She says people are probably not ‘bored to death’ by work, but may die younger because bored people often seek stimulation from things like unhealthy food, alcohol, drugs and ‘risk-taking behavior.’… However, she says boredom itself can lead to stress and depression.”, July 26th. It’s not like momentary or sporadic boredom is the killer, but long-term sustained boredom can actually kill you… maybe… and perhaps not directly.
So if your job is so terminally boring, is the resulting health risk the responsibility of your employer? Is the following a real threat in the U.S. or could this only happen in employee-rights-crazy France? “A Frenchman is suing his former employer for ‘bore out’ - boredom's equivalent of burnout - which he says turned him into a ‘professional zombie.’ Frederic Desnard wants 360,000 euros (£300,000) for being ‘killed professionally through boredom’ by his 80,000-euro-a-year job as an executive in a perfume business.”
Responsibility for the work environment is generally perceived to be under the control of the employer. American workers’ compensation laws apply strict liability for job-related medical risks without asking for massive proof of causation… but then the hard dollar awards for job-related comp claims are severely limited (the big trade off). But if boredom becomes a true employer risk, is that a disincentive for employers to avoid hiring smart and educated employees for lesser jobs? And in hard times or where people have advanced degrees in fields with few or no job opportunities, does that suggest that being a Starbucks barista no longer an option? Is there a cause of action for employees for boredom… or not?
“The French case, [Mann] says, is an important one that could lead organisations to take boredom more seriously, just as they came in the past to recognise the damaging effects of stress.
“Wijnand van Tilburg, assistant professor in psychology at King's College London, says ‘bore-out’ is not a recognised condition in psychology, though the idea that boredom can lead to intense suffering is not new - he quotes German psychologist Erich Fromm who imagined hell as ‘the place where you were continually bored.’
“A common theme among bored people is a state of ‘perceived meaninglessness,’ he says, but he argues that it is a ‘normal emotion’ and can have positive effects such as prompting people to change their lives.” Do something with the other part of your life, away from work, or simply change jobs? Don’t have the skills? How about retraining? It does seem that there are options, even under the necessity of making a living to support a family, to alleviate remaining in a boring job… and if such a job is tolerable for 10 years, does the cause of action kick in in year 12? 15? Never?
I’m Peter Dekom, and sometimes there just has to be some personal responsibility for the work we choose to do.

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