How boring is your job?
French case highlights challenges of finding exciting, fulfilling work
May 10, 2016
By Brian Kreissl
Most readers have probably heard the story of Frédéric Desnard. He is the former employee of a French perfume company who is suing his employer for the equivalent of over $500,000 because his job was too “boring.”
While we haven’t really heard the employer’s side of the story just yet, some of Desnard’s allegations make it sound like there is possibly more to the story than a disengaged employee who was simply bored with his uninteresting job. According to Desnard, he was removed from his previous high-profile position and given uninteresting work to do in the hope he would quit.
He alleges this caused him to suffer from “bore out,” which is sort of the opposite side of the coin to burnout. Desnard argues he suffered health problems as a result. He was finally terminated from his employment after a car accident made him unable to work.
The company’s lawyer said the problem was Desnard’s own fault and demonstrates a lack of initiative on his part. According to the lawyer, if Desnard had nothing to do, why didn’t he say anything?
While this story has been painted by the media as an example of yet another frivolous lawsuit — and the company’s lawyer does appear to make a good point about Desnard not speaking up about his lack of work — I have another take on the situation.
I personally have some sympathy for people in this situation. While no one wants to suffer burnout or be overworked, the reverse is also true — especially for people who are ambitious and hard-working and take pride in their work.
Insufficient work and constructive dismissal
I don’t know much about French employment law, but here in Canada, this type of scenario might be enough to support allegations of constructive dismissal. Constructive dismissal applies in situations where an employer unilaterally alters a fundamental term of an individual’s employment contract.
Changing someone’s job duties and responsibilities significantly so she had little or nothing to do could potentially lead to constructive dismissal. It is also possible that forcing an employee to accept an extremely diminished role could be part of a campaign of abuse amounting to constructive dismissal due to a highly poisoned work environment.
Other than in certain special cases such as artists and entertainers, there is generally no obligation for an employer to provide sufficient work for employees to do. Unless constructive dismissal or some other exception applies, employers in general can literally require employees to sit around and watch paint dry.
Not having enough work to do
But aside from the legal situation with respect to someone with an extremely dull job or insufficient work to do, such an approach doesn’t make sense from an employee engagement or retention perspective — unless the idea really is to get the employee to resign. However, the problem with that approach is it isn’t very ethical and it is essentially a cowardly way to avoid terminating someone’s employment (although it can save on severance costs).
While it wasn’t done deliberately, I have been in situations where I simply didn’t have enough work to do. It was a rather nerve-wracking situation and I never felt more tired after coming home from work.
In such a scenario, it is always important to try to keep busy by finding work to do and volunteering for additional projects. However, not having enough work to do can be boring and exhausting and lead to fears about job loss.
Not having interesting or exciting work
On the other hand, I’m also starting to believe that while work should be as interesting and engaging as possible, it isn’t really supposed to be fun. Some people may need to be reminded of that fact since their expectations around self-fulfillment from their work may be somewhat unrealistic.
In particular, the advice to “Do what you love” isn’t always practical because people’s hobbies and interests don’t always translate into viable work options. Even where it is possible to pursue such work, what was once a fun and interesting hobby can quickly become hard work and tedious.
For example, because I really enjoy cooking, my parents tried encouraging me to become a chef. However, I knew working in a kitchen can be stressful and dangerous, with long and unsociable hours and low pay to start. Therefore, I would rather keep cooking as a hobby than pursue it as a career.
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Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.