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  • Tamar Balkin

What Really Happens When We Are Bored?

Updated: Feb 8, 2022

“Sometimes it creates embarrassing situations, as it did for Joel, a mid-level executive. He felt so bored that he snuck out of his office one afternoon to see a movie. When it was over, guess whom he ran into coming out of the same theatre? His boss.”

Douglas LaBier

Photo by Filip Mishevski on Unsplash


In my last blog I briefly touched on the idea that someone can be busy but bored, and that boredom may cause us to make decisions for the wrong reasons. I do believe it is ok to be bored every now and then, to have a bit of down time to we let the mind wander and drift. However, as my late grandfather was fond of saying “everything in moderation”. No doubt you would agree that staring into space during your morning train trip may be wonderful but similar behaviour would not be viewed favourably in a board meeting. A few events this week reminded me of some of the negative interpersonal implications of boredom. The first was whilst I was reviewing my client's personality, values and derailing assessment reports. The second was this morning whilst I was listening the podcast “The Office Without A**holes from WorkLife with Adam Grant”. When designing the Hogan personality inventories, the researchers wanted to look at the counter productive behaviours that would negatively influence a person’s careers, relationship and life satisfaction and the circumstances under which these behaviours would typically emerge. Their aim was to help to identify what derailing behaviour was occurring and why was happening, in order to design and implement the most appropriate course of action. Unfortunately, many organisations today do not focus early enough on understanding the complexity of derailing behaviours and the behaviour of some leaders is quite intolerable. A study of Bullying & Harassment in Australian Workplaces found that the most common form of harassment reported in Australian workplaces was being sworn at or yelled at.

“What we’ve seen is that incivility is contagious. People become carriers of it. Even if you’re just working around it, it affects your mood.”

Christine Porath

Psychologists have found that when people are experiencing exhaustion, stress or boredom their guard goes down and they start to engage in behaviour that will derail themselves, their team, and often the entire organisation. Regular readers would be aware that psychologists like to find the complexities in human behaviour and would not be surprised to learn that the ‘dark side’ of personality is multidimensional.

There are three main areas of flawed interpersonal behaviour:

  • Moving away- avoiding contact with others

  • Moving against- dominating or intimidating others

  • Moving toward- building alliances

The majority of leaders are aware of the impact of stress and exhaustion has on our behaviour and our treatment of others. Fortunately there is an increasing body of research on the health and behavioural/interpersonal implications of being tired or stressed and services aimed at improving our sleep and resilience. However, in my experience boredom does not yet seem to have as a high profile, it is potentially harder to spot, and thus it may go unnoticed. As a leader you have a responsibility to be proactive and look out for early warning signs of boredom, stress and fatigue in yourself and your team. As derailing behaviours are complex both in their causes and manifestation, in my experience the perspective and expertise of an external professional can be invaluable. ______________ References: For more information on the Hogan scale see: Listen to The Office Without A**holes from WorkLife with Adam Grant in Podcasts. Hogan, R, Hogan, J, & Warenfletz R. (2007) The Hogan Guide. Interpretation and Use of Hogan Inventories. Potter, R.E. Dollar, M.F. & Tuckey, M.R (2016) Bullying & Harassment in Australian Workplaces: Results from the Australian Workplace Barometer Project 2014/2015

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