Human Resources

Stress vs. boredom: Which is worse for health & career?

Everyone bangs on about stress in the workplace but what about the other silent killer? Boredom. And in the ‘fast-paced’ ‘always-on’ world of global business, workers aren’t even meant to admit this is a problem. In this two-part series we consult a variety of experts to find out which is worse for your health and career… and what difference technology makes.

Way back when I was a student I did some pretty appalling temp jobs. But it was a two week stint in an office that was by far the biggest kicker. This was because there was nothing to do aside from a tiny bit of filing, yet it demanded a punishing regime of pretending to busy every second of the day. And any attempts at tedium-crushing proactivity received sharp shrift. I knew I could leave… but what about those who face this malaise longer term?

“When experienced over a prolonged period boredom leads to a kind of ‘rust out’ rather than high stress ‘burn out’,” says Independent Chartered Occupational Psychologist, Gordon Tinline. “Like corrosion it slowly but relentlessly seeps in and has a weakening impact on your psychological wellbeing.” 

The enervating tedium of a compulsory environment is hard to top. The sheer drain of having nothing stimulating to do can be excruciating. It means you dwell on the silliest things, just as something to do really, and after a while it can prove so debilitating you’re even numbed when you leave the office.

“Boredom can be just as harmful as stress,” suggests Jayne Carrington, Managing Director of Right Management Workplace Wellness. Though stress and boredom are “jarringly opposite situations,” she continues “each in its own right can be extremely damaging”.

“Boredom means that your adrenal glands, which pump out those stimulating hormones adrenaline and cortisol [that cause stress], are dozing quietly, so your concentration drifts and mistakes are more likely,” says Dr Sally Norton, Founder of Vavista Wellness and “When the proverbial hits the fan, you will take that little bit longer to spring into action.”

This means unlike stress – which gets all the attention - boredom can weaken you general sense of purpose. This can be extremely demotivating in the short-term while long-term disengagement can have an incredibly negative impact on your mental health and wellbeing. 

All this also means that employees miss out on the positive benefits that work can bring such as positive social connections and a sense of purpose. “When the workplace is associated with boredom serious issues can come up in terms of productivity, careers and health,” says Carrington.

“Longer term it is possibly more damaging [than stress],” suggests Tinline. “Because we are unlikely to experience early severe symptoms we are less likely to take action to deal with boredom.” 

“Your self-esteem and confidence are at risk, this can lead to a negative spiral, becoming increasingly less likely to take action to reduce the boredom because you lack the confidence to do what's necessary to make this happen,” he adds.  

“Both stress and boredom need to be addressed in equal measure and should be managed by HR and tech teams as a broader part of a business’s recruitment and retention strategy,” says Lee Biggins, Managing Director of CV-Library.

But does stress and boredom always have to be bad? Mild stress can prove motivating while some people believe boredom leads to creativity. However, in their extreme forms there are no benefits - each is very damaging and can take a real toll on both your health and your career.

If you’re experiencing symptoms you should probably start looking for a new job now… before it is too late.


Read part 2:

Stress vs. boredom: What is the impact of tech?


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