Stress and wellbeing

Does your work feel meaningless? Then you risk becoming stressed

Being bored at work is unhealthy in the same way as being too busy. But for many, it is shameful if their work feels meaningless, says an expert in professional well-being.

The American anthropology professor David Graeber is the author of a disheartening theory: that many office jobs are completely unimportant, and that those who perform them are well aware.

According to surveys that Graeber cites, 40 percent respond that it would not make a difference or that it would even make a positive difference if their job disappeared.

“Huge groups of people, especially in Europe and North America, spend their entire working lives doing tasks they secretly believe are unnecessary. The moral and spiritual damage it causes is deeply felt. It is a scar on the collective soul", he wrote in 2013 in an essay published on the online media STRIKE!, where it received so much attention that their server subsequently crashed.

David Graeber's thoughts clearly hit a nerve, and he has since published the book Bullshit Jobs, which has become a bestseller.

Whatever one thinks of David Graeber's theory - and it has also been criticized for oversimplifying a complex subject - there is no doubt that having a job or tasks that feel unimportant can be downright harmful.

"Opinion and influence are two of the most important factors for us to thrive and be able to deliver in our working life. If we don't experience meaning at work, we start to break down", explains Sita Michael Bormann, work life consultant at IDA.

There are many forms of stress

According to Sita Michael Bormann, most people associate stress with being too busy. But in recent years, the view of what triggers stress has become more complex.

"Now, for example, there is a lot of talk about moral stress. Moral stress can be triggered if you feel that you cannot live up to the expectations you have for your own professionalism. In addition, there is existential stress or boreout, which can be the consequence of being bored or lacking challenges".

Although stress can be triggered by many different causes, the physiological response is the same.

"If you constantly have negative thoughts, for example that you are wasting your time at work, this can trigger hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. It is a natural response to danger, but the body is made to deal with it for a short time when we have to run away from the predator on the savannah, and if we constantly release these hormones, we get sick".

Work and identity are closely linked

In industrial society, working was about providing for one's family, but today identity and work have become much more closely linked, explains work life consultant Sita Michael Bormann.

"Today, working is to a large extent a project of self-realisation, and therefore people require meaning, influence and the right values ​​in their work".

The downside of that development is that it can feel shameful if one's work does not feel important because it is an ideal in society. Therefore, it can also be more difficult to recognize that you are stressed if it is due to a boring job.

"We live in a fast-paced society, and therefore it is often a badge of honour to be too busy. It says something about being important. On the other hand, it is a bit embarrassing if one's work is boring".

You don't have to save the world

If you don’t thrive in a boring job or a job where you lack challenges and exciting tasks, according to Sita Michael Bormann, it is important to take action.

"You have to take your gut feeling seriously, even if it is difficult for many to notice. You can easily get stressed, even if you are not very busy, and it is just as serious.”

“Next, you have to ask yourself what you cannot compromise on and what you can learn to live with. Few people can have a working life that is constantly exciting and developing, but if part of your job is fun, you can also live with a number of boring tasks".

She also points out that for most people it is neither realistic nor necessary to have a job where you have to "save the world".

"Your job doesn't have to be extraordinary on a daily basis. Meaning in a job context is basically about being able to see that one's work adds value to colleagues, customers or citizens. It can be as simple as drawing up a spreadsheet that can help others in the organisation save time", says Sita Michael Bormann.

She therefore encourages you to look for a new job or try to get other or new tasks where you are, if you have been bored or lacked challenges for a long period of time.

"It is not a healthy working environment, and therefore you have to look away or look for other tasks to take care of yourself, just as you have to if it is too busy at your job".