Boredom at work can make you sick

Boredom at work is associated with an increased risk of illness in the same way as stress and occupational burnout. Research by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health shows that the experience of job boredom is associated with a reduced heart rate variability during the night, which can predict health problems.
Piia Seppälä.
Piia Seppälä
Jari Hakanen
Jari Hakanen

Finnish Institute of Occupational Health media release 22 January 2024

Boredom at work can cause health hazards similar to occupational burnout or stress, which are known to be related to abnormal functioning of the involuntary or autonomic nervous system.

Normally, the parasympathetic function of the autonomic nervous system is activated at rest. When this function is decreased, it affects the body's ability to recover. Long-term abnormalities are associated with disease risks and even mortality.

Researchers from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and Emlyon Business School investigated for the first time whether the experience of job boredom is related to the functioning of the autonomic nervous system.

In the study, heart rate variability (HRV) at night was used as an indicator of the functioning of the autonomic nervous system. Decreased nightly heart rate variability reflects less parasympathetic activity and indicates that the body is in a stressed state.

This internationally unique study demonstrated the existence of a link, which means that long-term boredom at work can lead to health hazards.

“Experiences of boredom should not be ignored as insignificant,” says Senior Researcher and Docent in Occupational Psychology, Piia Seppälä from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.

“It is already known from previous studies that bored employees assess their own health as poorer. Still, job boredom has been considered even healthy. However, our study shows that boredom at work can be a similar risk to health as other more traditional experiences of poor well-being at work,” says Piia Seppälä.

Repeated boredom should be prevented

“An occasional experience of boredom is normal and does not cause health problems, but frequent or constant boredom undermines health,” says Assistant Professor Lotta Harju from the Emlyon Business School.

The researchers recommend paying more attention to boredom at workplaces and in occupational health care. According to previous research evidence, boredom is common in work life, and is often caused by factors such as excessive bureaucracy and miscellaneous tasks not related to one's own work role.

Due to its adverse health effects, it is advisable to actively try to prevent experiences of boredom.

Learn more about the study

  • The study monitored the heart rate variability of 125 Finnish public sector employees during two consecutive nights.
  • The results excluded the impact of lifestyle, age and other background factors on heart rate variability. 
  • The research article was published in the journal Stress and Health: Seppälä, P., Harju, L., Virkkala, J., & Hakanen, J. J. (2023). Is boredom at work bad for your health? Examining the links between job boredom and autonomic nervous system dysfunction. Stress and Health.
  • Media release on the reasons for boredom at work 15 December 2023. 

For more information, please contact:  

  • Piia Seppälä, Docent of Occupational Psychology, Senior Researcher, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, piia.seppala [at], +358 43 824 4216 
  • Lotta Harju, Assistant Professor, Emlyon Business School, harju [at], +33 6 51 07 53 96
  • Jari Hakanen, Research Professor, the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, jari.hakanen [at], +358 40 562 5433

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