After the burnout and the bore-out, the brownout?

Burnout and bore-out, we’ve heard. But brownout?

Etymologically the term burnout has a scientific origin. A burnt-out star has run out of nuclear fuel and implodes. A brownout refers to a drop in an electrical power supply system. It doesn’t mean your system crashes.


An article in The Telegraph lists 10 signs indicating you’re experiencing a brownout. A few signs include being completely disengaged at work, “working long and dull hours” and tending “towards passive aggressiveness“.

How is this different from a bore-out? The Harvard Business Review says the following:

Brownout, a term also used to describe part of the life cycle of a star, is different from burnout because knowledge workers afflicted by it are not in obvious crisis. They seem to be performing fine:  putting in massive hours in meetings and calls across time zones, grinding out work while leading or contributing to global teams, and saying all the right things in meetings (though not in side-bar conversations). However, these executives are often operating  in a silent state of continual overwhelm, and the predictable consequence is disengagement.”

The research on this brownout experience is solely focused on executives and leaders so far. The Telegraph states “the US coaching firm Corporate Balance Concepts recently looked at 1,000 executives and estimated that five per cent of them suffered from burnout while 40 per cent suffered from brownout.”

All in all, I think it’s important to have a good relationship with your HR Manager, ask for meetings and tell him or her what’s going on. Tell them what’s up and why you need less work, more work, different work. And the concept of flow below (as explained in this TED Talk by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) can help us understand how difficulty of challenge and ability relate to boredom and anxiety (and thus bore-outs, burnouts and brownouts).


Harvard Busines Review –
The Times – Unhappy at work? You’re not suffering burnout, but brownout –
The Guardian – Feeling demotivated at work? You’re not alone, here’s how to cope –
The Telegraph – Are you suffering from ‘brownout’?-
UI Patterns – 

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