The Latest Corporate Concern: Boredom

Workers have posted more than 200,000 videos about their lack of interest in their jobs. Is it a wake-up call for firm leaders?

He felt like a high-school teacher being ignored by his students. The meeting was supposed to fire everyone up, but instead, the members of his department were just staring at him blankly, nodding their heads, but not really paying attention. Everyone seemed bored—and according to the latest hashtag to explode on social media, they probably were.

For millions of people, work has become little more than fodder for memes. TikTok users have flooded the platform with some 200,000 #boredatwork videos, making it one of the most popular hashtags (cumulatively, the videos have more than half a billion views). Some of the videos are clearly meant as entertainment, with jokes pulled from movies like Office Space and TV shows like The Office. But others feature an undercurrent of disenchantment with the realities of work life. They show employees making fun of their managers, sabotaging colleagues, snooping into other people’s calendars, and, of course, doing what TikTok is known for, dancing.

Though the #boredatwork hashtag dates to 2020, experts say leaders should be troubled by its recent explosion on TikTok, because it coincides with the entry of Gen-Z workers (the site’s most active users) into a dysfunctional job market. “It should be a huge wake-up call for management,” says Shanda Mints, vice president in the Recruitment Process Outsourcing Analytics and Implementation practice at Korn Ferry. She believes the surge in boredom reflects not only that people are unhappy in their current jobs, but also that they feel stuck in them. Indeed, the number of open jobs has been shrinking, forcing dissatisfied workers to stay put or move into roles they’re overqualified for.

To be sure, #boredatwork videos belong to a long line of memes that have taken aim at work, particularly in corporations and big businesses, among them  #quietquitting, #bareminimummondays, #lazygirljobs, and #actyourwage. While #boredatwork was born from the pandemic, when there literally was no work, its enduring power—above and beyond that of the other memes—suggests that leaders have been unable to engage and motivate Gen Z, says Mark Royal, a Korn Ferry senior client partner specializing in employee engagement. Fewer than one-third of employees report being engaged with work, and 17% say they’re actively disengaged. That number has steadily declined since 2020, raising the question of whether leaders might be keeping employees in roles for too long—or not hiring the right people to begin with. “Many employees aren’t seeing the purpose in what they are doing,” Royals says.

The challenge for HR leaders and people managers is to figure out precisely which employees are bored—and why—as well as which ones are using the videos for other reasons, says Dan Kaplan, a senior client partner in Korn Ferry’s CHRO practice. He says that people who post #boredatwork videos aren’t necessarily bored at work—“There’s a pile-on effect happening,” he observes—and in some cases may be using the hashtag in the hope of getting likes and going viral. Dennis Deans, vice president of global human resources at Korn Ferry, agrees, saying that #boredatwork might just be an outlet for people to express themselves during unavoidable down periods. “It doesn’t necessarily mean the day wasn’t productive,” says Deans.

Still, boredom at work can be a potentially costly issue. Studies show bored workers are less productive, and perform worse, than their peers. For the employer, the psychological impact of boredom can be seen in higher healthcare costs, increased turnover, and loss of talent. HR leaders and hiring managers can root out boredom, says Royal, by asking employees what work they find most meaningful, whether they feel recognized for it, and how they believe it aligns with the company’s goals. More broadly, leaders can provide opportunities for career advancement and skill development.

Chris Cantarella, global sector leader for the Software practice at Korn Ferry, says that boredom at work will only get worse as AI becomes more pervasive. Right now, he says, the technology isn’t yet widespread enough or well enough understood to do the bulk of most employees’ work. But the promise of AI, after all, is to take on repetitive and menial tasks in order to free employees up for more creative, critical, knowledge-based work. “AI probably isn’t in the top five reasons for the increase in boredom at work,” says Cantarella. “Yet.”


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