Do you dread going to work every morning? Do you feel your work is meaningless so you started doing the bare minimum? If you're one of the lucky ones that can reply 'no', I'm really happy you found a job you like, that motivates you and fulfils your needs. If, like me, that’s not the case, and you ended up in a dead-end job, don’t worry, you’re not alone and there’s even a term for this feeling of lethargy in the workplace: The brownout.
My personal experience with brownout started when a routine that once was reassuring and comfortable morphed into long hours of repetitive and boring tasks. I came to understand that what was expected from me was a series of meaningless and often useless chores. It feels like Groundhog day, living the exact same day over and over again, trapped between the phone and the photocopier.
It’s the lack of stimulation. I work like an automaton, repeating the same simple actions without ever using my brain. No thinking or problem-solving skills are required; I was telling my colleague the other day I feel like I'm losing neurons and the absence of brain activity creates a sort of numbness when it’s time to think or concentrate.
If you relate to this, then I'm sure you understand how highly frustrating it can be to know that you are capable of so much more, yet experience mental exhaustion at the end of the day from doing nothing. Nothing fulfilling, nothing gratifying, nothing that matters. A persistent lack of stimulation and the frustration of not living up to your full potential. It can have an impact on your personal life and can contribute to a loss of self-esteem, or even depression.
Another factor that influenced me to give my imaginary notice is that my work was never valued, or even acknowledged by my superiors. I sometimes wonder if they are aware that it’s someone else's job to do all those dull tasks. If they are, I guess they think that the job is as valuable as the person doing it.
It makes me feel small, but it also helps me realize something that my boss probably doesn’t want me to know; how pointless and unexciting my job is.
So here we are. The day I mentally resigned. One of my superiors gave me a very urgent job. So urgent that I had to pause all my little boring tasks and give it my full attention. I needed to print a report. An emergency. They pressured me to do it as quickly as possible, and so I was very stressed trying to print the report while responding to the phone, among other people's requests. I succeeded in completing my task in a record time and notified them that it was ready. The report stayed on my desk all day. It even stayed for three weeks before I told them that it was still there. They told me to put it in the bin as they would not need it. I didn’t get an apology or even an explanation. It made me feel useless and neglected. I realized that the stress and pressure that has been put on my shoulders, and that I put on myself at the time, had no purpose other than fulfilling someone's superiority complex. I felt so discouraged as I understood that my work and efforts would never be acknowledged and valued. The reaction would be the same whether or not I gave my best. Always indifferent.
It’s at this point that I understood that none of this matters. I’ve always had a strong work ethic and I used to try my best and put effort into my work even when executing less important tasks. If I was asked I would describe my workplace culture as toxic without any hesitation as it involves an overall lack of communication added to passive-aggressive behaviour and unhealthy micromanagement. I suppose that unconsciously I ended up blaming myself for not matching their expectations; I was constantly stressed about doing wrong things and was seeking validation. Then the report.
I started approaching work in a very nonchalant way. Doing what I was asked without giving it any particular effort or enthusiasm, instead, I was developing strategies not to be too efficient and I'm now an expert on looking busy when I'm not. I also stopped asking for additional work or taking up other people’s projects. I’m not staying more than I should and you won’t see me at my desk once my work day is over. I’m only doing what I'm paid for and I refuse to feel miserable and stressed for a job that represents nothing but monotony to me.
Eventually, I was able to completely dissociate myself from my job and I came to the realization that, unlike what I thought, it has nothing to do with me, it doesn’t define my worth or what I'm capable of. I’m simply, like you if you find a bit of yourself in my words, an interesting individual with a not-so-interesting job.
Corporate culture today is based on how hard we work to take personal credit for our accomplishments and pushes us to work beyond our specified roles has been tarnished in the last few years with the quiet-quitting phenomenon. Even if no clear explanation has been provided on this movement, the COVID pandemic might have been an eye-opener for a lot of people as it gave us what we’ve been lacking in our overstimulated lives. Time. We all had the opportunity to stop and rethink our needs and goals. We learned new things and connected on another level with our loved ones. We understood that there is more to living and experience than, in my case, making copies and folding documents.
I presume that the return to reality has been harsh for a lot of us which has induced a wave of people mentally giving up on their jobs. The present economic crisis has also led to this global demotivation. Why would we sacrifice our time, energy, and physical and mental health for a job that only gives us the right to survive? Writing this I’m wondering if quiet quitting is really the right phrase or if we are just starting to act our wage.