Boredom At Work

Workplace Wellness / Category / Emile Du Toit / May 10th 2014

This blog examines the two dimensions of boredom and takes a brief look at the current research in to boredom. We examine the 5 types of boredom themselves and then throw around a few postulations on what types of people might particularly struggle with particular types of boredom.

Boredom at work is common

Perhaps you are sitting at work and counting the black dots on the wall? Just finished zoning out completely for an hour? Frustrated as hell because you can now do your job on automatic and the only exciting new project just got handed to your colleague? Or maybe you boredom is getting you down physically and emotionally and you can hardly get out of bed to endure another day?!

All of these could be seen as in terms of different types of boredom. So if you wandered on to this blog today in a desperate search for stimulation at work, then take a moment to consider the qualitative nature of your boredom. Put aside the reasons for feeling bored and just examine what it is like.

The 2 dimensions used in boredom research

Research on boredom has generally examined it in terms of two dimensions:

  • Level of arousal – which ranges from calm to fidgety.
  • Valence – which is the direction and intensity of the feeling of boredom (how positive or negative it feels).

  • Research into boredom

    Research using the 2 dimensions of boredom (valence and arousal), classified boredom into four different types: indifferent, calibrating, searching and reactant boredom. Later research led to the discovery of a fifth type of boredom, apathetic boredom.

    The 5 types of boredom

    Indifferent boredom

    Indifferent boredom occurs when you are fairly relaxed, calm and withdrawn. I would hypothesize that many people who experience this type of boredom tend not to have high levels of drive or motivation to begin with, so are not too bothered about what they could be doing instead.

    Searching boredom

    You might be struggling with searching boredom if you feel negative, a disagreeable restlessness, and are often looking for other activities that might be more stimulating. In contrast to indifferent boredom, I could hypothesize that many with searching boredom are more driven and motivated, and are more likely to find a solution to their boredom.

    Calibrating boredom

    Calibrating boredom often occurs in people who perform repetitive tasks and have a notion that they want to change this but are unsure how. Their mind wanders a lot and they struggle to focus on alternatives.

    Reactant boredom

    You may have witnessed this form of boredom in colleagues before, or indeed struggle with it yourself. It is characterised by strong negative feelings and a high level of arousal. People with reactant boredom are restless and aggressive and tend to blame others for their state of boredom. They tend to spend their time fantasizing about jobs that they would like to do, as opposed to examining ways of changing their situation.

    I would hypothesise that some people with reactant boredom may take on a victim role in their life and possibly have underlying personality issues.

    Apathetic boredom

    This fifth type of a boredom emerged after a paper published in Motivation and Emotion, with the research actually being conducted on high school scholars as opposed to the workforce. People struggling with this type of boredom appear to have little actual arousal but high levels of aversion. It has been hypothesized that this could be linked to helplessness and possibly depression, though any possible causality and direction thereof has not been clarified.

    To put that differently, any combination of the following is possible:

  • There could be a third factor that is responsible for both apathetic boredom and depression,
  • Underlying helplessness or depression could result in apathetic boredom, and/or
  • Apathetic boredom could have a role in creating feelings of helplessness and even depression.

  • Synthesizing the 5 types of boredom

    The five types of boredom are indifferent, calibrating, searching, reactant and apathetic boredom. Research into types of boredom may help us to better identify where we struggle with boredom, why we are struggling with boredom (how much of it is built in to our personality), and therefore how best to defeat it.

    References

    1. Springer. "Boredom research has now become more interesting." ScienceDaily.
      ScienceDaily, 18 November 2013.
      .
    2. Thomas Goetz, Anne C. Frenzel, Nathan C. Hall, Ulrike E. Nett, Reinhard Pekrun,
      Anastasiya A. Lipnevich. Types of boredom: An experience sampling
      approach. Motivation and Emotion, 2013; DOI: 10.1007/s11031-013-9385-y; http://www.springer.com/about+springer/media/springer+select?SGWID=0-11001-6-1445444-0

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