Back at your workstation, you’re sitting in front of your computer, completely passive. Your eyes wander in the void. In your head, thoughts collide but, in the end, always come down to the same antiphon: “What am I doing here!”. Nostalgia for holidays that always go by too fast? Fancy a last sunbath by the sea? Not really. You were already in this state before you left, and two months ago, and 6 months ago, and a year ago, or even more. What if you were a victim of a brownout?
Neither burnout nor boreout, brownout can be defined as the continuous disengagement of individuals at work from missions that seem completely meaningless to them. The notion is therefore closely linked to the concept of “bullshit jobs” defined in 2013 by anthropologist David Graeber in his book of the same name.
Brownout: a widespread disease
Unlike burnout, which is a sudden state of temporary exhaustion, brownout can have long-lasting effects on a person’s professional and personal life. It is, moreover, much more common in the workplace. In a study (2016) conducted by the American coaching company Corporate Balance Concepts, about 5% of the 1,000 executives surveyed suffered from burnout, while 40% suffered from brownout. In France, a survey on meaning at work carried out in 2019 by Kantar TNS for Randstad revealed that 18% of French people feel they have a “useless” job. 23% were ready to start their own business and 20% were ready to radically change their job.
The causes of the brownout syndrome are not to be sought very far. The main culprit: recent changes in work organisation models. For more than a decade, an increasingly difficult economic climate has led companies to downsize their workforces, with the result that the workload per employee has risen sharply. The result: an increase in standardised tasks at all levels of the company, which has led to a reduction in time for rest or exchange of ideas. The multiplication of formatted, time-consuming and value-free daily activities has inevitably led to the emptying work of all meaning. No wonder then that employees and managers alike end up becoming emotionally disengaged from the tasks assigned to them. The absence of meaning is in direct contravention of the first Law of Well-Being at Work: “To feel well, you must feel useful”.
Brownout: knowing the warning signs
It is not always easy to spot a brownout. However, there are certain signs that should sound the alarm:
- feeling useless
- the gradual loss of interest in his work
- the accumulation of excuses for ducking out
- the famous question, “Why am I here?”
Today, more than money, the search for meaning dictates the priorities of job applicants, especially among generations Y and Z. They will therefore take a close look at the culture of the company in which they are going to apply. The company must regularly offer its recognition to employees, give them a real sense of the importance of the missions entrusted to them in relation to the organization’s strategic objectives, succeed in creating a strong sense of community and encourage continuous learning, all in order to create meaning.
Meaning in the workplace, an obligation
From now on, finding meaning in one’s work is no longer optional, it is an imperative. It is high time to say no to bullshit jobs. Whether you’re 25, 30 or 55, it’s never too late to change. Finding your dream job is not an impossible task. Nowadays, there are solutions. So why not use them?