Workzone: Bored at work? Don't let it kill you

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Every job has its tedious moments but there's a difference between dying to see the time clock hit 5 p.m. and being "bored to death."

Researchers at University College London found some evidence that being bored may have an impact on people's life spans, as explained in a study released recently that tracked a group of civil servants and found those who reported a great deal of boredom were more likely to die younger.

The actual boredom probably didn't kill them, the researchers said. But people who report feeling bored more may be at higher risk for other factors such as "excessive drinking, smoking, taking drugs and low psychological profiles," according to the report by Annie Britton and Martin J. Shipley, who work in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health.

"Finding renewed interest in social and physical activities may alleviate boredom and improve health, thus reducing the risk of being 'bored to death,'" according to the researchers' conclusions published by the International Journal of Epidemiology.

The key to not being bored is to find meaning, whether that is on the job or in free time, said Janie Harden Fritz, an associate professor of communications and rhetorical studies at Duquesne University.

Sometimes it isn't easy.

One of her students recently did a report on the 2008 book, "Boreout: Overcoming Workplace Demotivation." In it, according to online bookseller Amazon.com, authors Philippe Rothlin and Peter Werder estimate 15 percent of office staff could soon suffer from chronic boredom and demotivation in the workplace because they're not challenged and they've become resigned to the situation.

Some work feels important and meaningful without a lot of effort. But some is a bit harder sell.

Dr. Harden Fritz recalled the story of the monk whose job it was to wash dishes. When he decided to look at it as a service to God, it had meaning. "That changed his experience of that work. The work itself didn't change," she said.

People doing work that is less challenging or stimulating than they might hope -- and with unemployment rates up, that may be true of more workers than usual these days -- could ease the sense of futility or boredom by learning how their job is important to the big picture at their workplace.

Management can help with that, as well. Thanking people for what they do also can help employees feel as if their contribution, whatever is it, is valued, said Dr. Harden Fritz.

For those who find the time dragging at work, spending time off in a meaningful way is good, she said. "That's when a rich private life is so important."

As the University College London researchers pointed out, using drugs or alcohol to alleviate the boredom or to make it easier to get through another dreary day may not be the best use of time off. That guy who is passionate about his roses or the woman who spends her spare moments helping at the soup kitchen may be on to something.

"Meaning is life-giving," said Dr. Harden Fritz. "You don't just want to give up."


Teresa F. Lindeman: tlindeman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2018.


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