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In the past, boredom at work was just another part of the job. Boring jobs pay the bills, after all, and employees either dealt with their boredom or found a more captivating career. Thanks to new studies about how boredom affects mental health, however, employees are now not only unwilling to tolerate a boring job, but they’re also suing their employers because of it.
A senior psychology lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire in England, Sandi Mann, believes boredom is a commonly hidden emotion in the workplace. She states that as a society, we have become less inclined to tolerate boredom and expect entertainment. In the world of mobile devices and instant gratification, boredom is unacceptable, even at work. Today, employees commonly leave higher-paying but boring jobs for a pay cut at a workplace that is more fulfilling.
Mann deems boredom the new “stress” at work but claims most companies are not aware of the problem. Companies do not want to admit that employees find them boring. Lack of awareness and initiatives to solve the problem lead to more and more bored employees at work with no outlets for relief. In the past, this may not have been a newsworthy problem, but today it is an issue that concerns an employee’s mental health and stability.
Last year, a University of Cambridge professor studied military surgeons in Afghanistan for six weeks. He found that boredom had a marked destabilizing effect on surgeons who otherwise performed highly in the field. He mentioned that problems arose not when injured patients inundated Camp Bastion, but when the surgeons had nothing to do. On days when not a single casualty came in, surgeons still worked around the clock waiting for traumas. They became bored, restless, and unhappy.
Bored employees are more likely to experience stress symptoms than less-bored coworkers and engage in behaviors that could damage their employment. This can include horseplay or failing to show up for work. A study from the University of South Florida and Montclair State University identified six ways bored employees can harm a company:
Withdrawal is the most common damage, when employees take unnecessarily long breaks, show up to work late, or do not show up at all. This was the case when Frédéric Desnard filed a lawsuit against the Parisian company he worked for, Interparfums, for “boring him out” of his high-paying job. The company fired Desnard for going on a prolonged sick leave after being in a car accident. However, Desnard alleges that his employer demoted him in an attempt to have Desnard voluntarily quit. Desnard cites that boredom at his job was the reason for the company’s actions and demands more than $400,000 in compensation.
Researchers find that boredom can directly result in stress-like symptoms, such as bad health and poor workability. It is necessary for employers to provide a workplace environment that is safe for employees to ask questions and find psychological support. Allowing employees to express their boredom may sound like a non-starter, but it may be the only way to avoid a lawsuit in today’s changing legal atmosphere.
Desnard’s case serves as a precedent for others to sue employers for boredom. Organizations that do not redesign work in a way that challenges employees and keeps them occupied may land in the courtroom. As more researchers collect data and conduct studies into how boredom affects mental health and work ethic, this may be a circumstance that the legal system sees more and more often.