independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Busy doing nothing at work? Must be Boreout

It's the latest office 'disease' for bored staff but, as Kim Bielenberg found out, it takes a lot of effort

Time on your hands: having too little to do at work is common

It sounds like a comic character from Kazakhstan. Boreout is the new buzz word among the human resources geeks in big business.

In the modern office, staff are not so much burned out, as bored to tears.

Do you stare blankly at your computer screen, frequently filling up the longueurs of the afternoon playing computer games, or writing a fictitious erotic internet diary?

Do you put your jacket on the back of your chair and then disappear for hours?

And do you phone in sick by putting a duvet over your head (it makes you sound suitably muffled and under the weather)?

If the answer to these questions is yes, you too could be suffering from Boreout, which is the ever-so-fashionable new office disease.

This shocking affliction is chronicled in a new book that is causing an indolent shrug of the shoulders in management circles. Diagnosis Boreout by Phillipe Rothlin and Peter Werder estimates that around 15pc of office staff are preoccupied doing extremely little.

Many workers are so ill-at-ease in the office that they spend a large part of the day simulating work. Office idleness has become an art form in itself with countless tips for workplace shirkers now available on the internet.

While researching this article, for example, I found that there is a special programme available on the internet which makes every internet page look like a Microsoft Word document. So you can surf away until your heart's content, booking your next holiday and fine-tuning your Bebo site, and your boss probably thinks you are a righteous keyboard slave filing the company accounts.

The authors of Diagnosis Boreout have carried out a detailed study of time wasting in the workplace. They point to surveys showing that one third of office workers do not have challenging work and as a result spend an average of two office hours a day on private matters to kill time.

The profile of a Boreout victim is remarkably similar to characters such as Tim in the Ricky Gervais BBC comedy series The Office, and Homer Simpson.

The affliction works like this: a boss refuses to delegate work, frustrated underlings ask for more to do but are trusted only with mind-numbing tasks. After a while they stop asking and enjoy the free time at their desk, stretching out the low-intensity tasks with a series of strategems.

"In a team of six, you often find that two people take on most of the work and at least one has almost nothing to do. He's not lazy -- it's just part of the group dynamic," Peter Werder explained charitably.

Much of the discussion about modern office life focuses on burnout, but little attention is paid to those who go out of their way to be indolent.

The authors of the book now run corporate seminars on the problem, which is being taken seriously in Germany. It is seen as contributing to high levels of sick leave and low levels of company loyalty.

The determined idler goes to enormous effort to make out that they are in fact working very hard.

They huff and puff about how busy they are. Some shirkers even go so far as to stay in the office later than anyone else even if they are doing nothing. After all, there may be more onerous chores to be attended to at home.

Others take a briefcase home with them every evening, making it clear that work will continue long into the night.

The briefcase, of course, might as well contain polystyrene beads.

Another strategy is to always carry sheafs of important-looking documents when you move in and out of the office during the day. When you go off to lounge about in a café, it will be assumed that you are in a meeting.

Accomplished shirkers give themselves artificially long deadlines that build hours of doing nothing into their schedule.

Then there is the "strategic delay''. A team project needs input from someone in another department or another company.

So you wait until that person is absent -- in a meeting or on a flight -- before calling. He then becomes responsible for the fact that you have nothing to do for a few hours, or even days.

A classic strategy is known as the "Italian jacket departure''. A spare jacket, kept in the office, is spread over the back of your chair, a half-drunk cup of black coffee is placed next to the phone -- and the worker disappears for half a day, or possibly even half a week (black coffee is essential, because curdled milk may signify a long absence).

German business writers have noted a rise in people "smoking'' since smokers were exiled from office buildings; fake smokers are feigning a habit simply to escape from the their desks. It would be wrong to suggest that strategic skiving is confined to the lower orders of business, of course. An ancient corporate maxim holds that, "If you want to get promoted, do nothing and if you want to do nothing, get promoted".

While dawdling away on the internet recently I discovered some tips from the idlers' guru, Guy Browning. He suggested that work-shy individuals can be found at all levels in business right up to the chairman.

"The reason for this is simple: when something goes wrong in business it's generally because someone somewhere has tried to do something.

"People who sit all day like a lemon, busily straightening paperclips, are the only people in business with a 100 per cent record of success, and with that sort of record, promotion is inevitable.''

So whatever you do, do nothing.

Diagnosis Boreout, Phillipe Rothlin and Peter Werder, published by Redline Additional reporting by Roger Boyes

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