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Repetitive work and mental health: understanding the links between boredom and depression

Posted on: June 29, 2023

Despite today’s fast-paced work environment, many employees still face the daunting challenge of repetitive tasks that can lead to feelings of boredom and, in some cases, even depression. The negative consequences of these emotions are far-reaching, impacting not only individual wellbeing but also overall organisational job satisfaction and productivity. 

Research suggests there are links that connect boredom, depression, and repetitive work – but there are also practical strategies for preventing and addressing these issues. And understanding both the risks and potential solutions is crucial for organisations. In fact, a 2022 Forbes article suggests that so-called boredom at work is more dangerous than employee burnout, highlighting a recent study that found boredom – or “boreout” – is the top reason why people leave organisations in search of new jobs.

Understanding the link: boredom, depression, and repetitive work

Research conducted in various fields – such as applied psychology, organisational psychology, clinical psychology, and social psychology – has helped shed light on the relationship between boredom, depression, and repetitive work.

Boredom proneness, which is a person’s propensity to experience boredom, has been found to be a predictor of depressive symptoms in the workplace. And when employees consistently engage in monotonous and repetitive tasks, they are more likely to experience chronic boredom, leading to a negative emotional state and, potentially, depression.

Additionally, studies and related questionnaires have identified several correlates and moderators that contribute to the development of workplace boredom and depression. Factors that can amplify the negative aspects of repetitive tasks include:

  • a negative work environment
  • lack of job satisfaction
  • poor work-life balance
  • management styles, such as micromanagement, that increase demotivation.

Understanding the definition of boredom as well as these predictors is crucial for employers seeking to foster a healthier and more engaging work environment for their employees.

Preventing boredom and depression in workplaces

It’s clear that addressing the issue of job boredom and depression due to repetitive work is crucial for promoting staff mental health and wellbeing – and fortunately, there are various strategies that employers can implement in order to prevent and tackle these issues effectively. 

Research and interest in the area is growing, too. For example, a recent BBC article – “The damaging effects of ‘boreout’ at work” – quotes Lotta Harju, a prominent researcher in work and organisational psychologist: “My hope is that these boreout-related trends will force some organisations to re-think their human resource philosophies and policies, and organise work in a more sustainable way in general in the post-pandemic era.”

Potential strategies to tackle workplace boredom and depression include:

Enabling job crafting

Job crafting encourages employees to take an active role in shaping their work experience.

The practice involves allowing people to modify certain aspects of their tasks, such as seeking additional responsibilities or collaborating with colleagues on new projects. By empowering employees to tailor their job to their strengths and interests, employers can enhance engagement and minimise the risk of chronic boredom.

Promoting healthy work-life balance

Employers can demonstrate their recognition of the importance of work-life balance by implementing policies that support employees in maintaining a healthy equilibrium between their personal and professional lives. This can include:

  • encouraging regular breaks
  • offering flexible working hours
  • promoting initiatives that foster employee wellbeing, such as wellness programmes or mindfulness training.

Providing growth opportunities

It’s crucial that employers offer opportunities for professional development and growth within their organisations. Providing employees with avenues for learning and advancement can counteract the stagnation often associated with repetitive work.

This can be achieved through:

  • training programmes
  • mentorship
  • offering the possibility of transitioning into new roles within the company.

Utilising new technology for mundane tasks

As new technologies – such as artificial intelligence and machine learning – rapidly develop and expand into the workplace, they offer new opportunities to automate repetitive tasks and free up staff capacity to tackle more complex, exciting challenges.

Sharing new techniques and strategies with staff

While employers need to take an active role in addressing employee boredom and its associated risks, it’s also important that employees have strategies for tackling boredom, particularly during repetitive tasks. Sharing these strategies with staff can benefit both organisations and individuals. 

Some examples include:

  • Fostering positive coping mechanisms. Encouraging employees to develop healthy coping mechanisms can help them combat work-related boredom and manage their emotional state. These coping mechanisms might include breaks that involve physical activity or relaxation techniques, or engaging in activities that stimulate creativity and personal growth, both within and outside of work, to provide a sense of fulfillment.
  • Building social support networks. Employees should feel empowered to create a supportive work environment, one where all staff feel comfortable discussing their feelings of boredom or dissatisfaction with their peers. By encouraging open communication, and fostering a culture of collaboration and teamwork, employees can build their self-esteem and feel more confident about seeking support from both their colleagues and their managers. This in turn can foster a sense of belonging in the workplace, and reduce the chances of negative emotions developing in the first place.
  • Pursuing new challenges. Enabling employees to seek out new challenges or projects can inject variety into their workday. This could include granting validation or permissions for – or openly encouraging – cross-departmental collaborations, or skill-building opportunities that allow individuals to expand their knowledge or engage with different aspects of their job. This strategy can be hugely effective in combating monotony and invigorating people’s enthusiasm for their work.

Use business psychology principles to create dynamic work environments

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