Play is a fundamental human need that brings joy, creativity, and learning to our lives. Play can also help us cope with stress, improve our mental health, and enhance our social skills. But what happens when we don’t play enough? What is the opposite of play, and how does it affect us?
Some might think that the opposite of play is work, but that’s not necessarily true. Work can be playful, engaging, and meaningful if it aligns with our values, interests, and strengths. Work can also provide us with a sense of purpose, achievement, and belonging. However, work can also be boring, stressful, and unfulfilling if it doesn’t match our needs, preferences, and goals. Work can also take over our lives and leave us with little time or energy for play.
So, the opposite of play is not work per se, but rather boredom. Boredom is an emotional state characterized by feeling unstimulated, unfocused, and restless, yet lacking the desire to engage. Or in short — boredom exists when we are mentally idle.
Boredom can occur in any situation where we feel trapped, constrained, or disinterested. Boredom can also occur when we have too much or too little to do, when we lack challenge or variety, or when we don’t see the value or meaning of our actions. Boredom can happen at home, at school, or at work.
Boredom at work is a common and serious problem that affects millions of workers around the world. Boredom at work is also known as boreout, a term coined by Swiss business consultants Philippe Rothlin and Peter Werder in their 2007 book “Diagnose Boreout“. Boreout is the opposite of burnout, which is caused by too much stress and pressure at work. Boreout is caused by too little stimulation and motivation at work.
Boreout can have negative consequences for both individuals and organizations. Boreout can lead to:
- Depression: Boredom and depression are often linked, but not always related. Boredom can be a factor in the development or worsening of depression, especially when it is chronic, existential, or apathetic. Depression can also cause a constant feeling of boredom that won’t go away with new stimulation. However, boredom is not always a negative feeling and can be resolved by finding new challenges or interests.
- Anxiety: Boreout can increase anxiety levels, especially when managing stressful situations or thinking about work when away from the job. Anxiety can also make boredom worse by reducing attention span and interest in activities. Anxiety can also interfere with sleep quality and mood regulation.
- Stress: Boreout can cause stress by creating a mismatch between the demands and resources of the job. Stress can also result from hiding boredom from others or pretending to be busy. Stress can affect physical and mental health by impairing immune system function, increasing blood pressure, and triggering inflammation.
- Insomnia: Boreout can cause insomnia by disrupting the circadian rhythm and reducing melatonin production. Insomnia can also exacerbate boredom by impairing cognitive function and emotional regulation. Insomnia can also increase the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity.
- Lost productivity: Boreout can reduce productivity by lowering performance, quality, and efficiency. Boreout can also lead to absenteeism, presenteeism (being physically present but mentally absent), and turnover. Boreout can also increase substance use as a way of coping or escaping.
- Counterproductive work behavior: Boreout can increase counterproductive work behavior such as sabotage, theft, gossiping, cyberloafing (using the internet for personal purposes during work hours), or whistleblowing (exposing wrongdoing within an organization). Counterproductive work behavior can harm the reputation, morale, and profitability of an organization.
Boreout is a serious issue that needs to be addressed by both employers and employees. Employers can prevent or reduce boreout by:
- Providing meaningful work: Employers should ensure that employees have clear goals, feedback, and recognition for their work. Employers should also align employees’ work with their values, interests, and strengths. Employers should also create a positive work culture that fosters trust, autonomy, and collaboration.
- Providing challenging work: Employers should ensure that employees have enough work to do, but not too much that they feel overwhelmed. Employers should also provide opportunities for learning, growth, and development. Employers should also encourage employees to take risks, experiment, and innovate.
- Providing varied work: Employers should ensure that employees have diverse and stimulating tasks to do. Employers should also allow employees to rotate or switch roles or projects. Employers should also support employees’ hobbies and passions outside of work.
Employees can cope with or overcome boreout by:
- Seeking new challenges: Employees should look for ways to improve their skills, knowledge, or performance at work. Employees should also seek feedback and guidance from their managers or mentors. Employees should also set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) goals for themselves.
- Seeking new interests: Employees should explore new hobbies, activities, or causes that spark their curiosity and passion. Employees should also join clubs, groups, or communities that share their interests. Employees should also volunteer for causes that they care about.
- Seeking professional help: Employees should seek professional help if they experience symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, insomnia, or substance use that interfere with their daily functioning. Employees should also seek professional help if they feel suicidal or hopeless. Employees should also seek professional help if they face discrimination, harassment, or abuse at work.
Play is not only fun, but also essential for our well-being. Play can help us cope with boredom, depression, anxiety, stress, insomnia, and other negative emotions. Play can also help us improve our productivity, creativity, and social skills. Play can also help us find meaning and purpose in our lives. So, let’s play more and bore less!
Also published on Medium.