Personal Development
The Brown-Out

The Brown-Out

Feeling of uselessness, loss of meaning. This is the latest professional pathology to be talked about. After burn-out and bore-out, doesn’t this new anglicism reinforce the confusion?

You are an expert on burn-out, this professional exhaustion caused by chronic stress. You have heard of bore-out, this deadly boredom linked to an underload of work. But do you know about brown-out? It’s the latest of the office’s ills. Do not look for its definition in the color brown: this anglicism was borrowed from the field of electricity and means “drop in current”. Are you there? We are in brown-out when we no longer have juice.

This new pathology of wear and tear at work is a loss of meaning. It is “a profession that no longer interests you, made up of repetitive and uninteresting tasks, the direct consequence of what the anthropologist David Graeber called bullshit jobs, explains François Baumann, doctor specialist in suffering at work, author of Brown-Out (Josette Lyon, 2018).

Feeling of uselessness, misunderstanding of the company’s objectives or values, disengagement, devaluation of oneself and the activity… The symptoms suggest a drop in tension. Is the phenomenon so recent? “It is likely that assembly line work was also stultifying,” notes Danièle Linhart, sociologist and research director emeritus at the CNRS, author of The Unbearable Subordination of Employees (Erès, 2021). However, we experienced it within a collective, we suffered together from the same constraints or the same attacks. We could share and thus regulate our boredom or our anger, by accusing the boss or big capital. Today, individualism and competitiveness generate a feeling of isolation. The suffering is internalized.” And it affects more and more workers, including in the noblest professions, those of care and teaching in particular.

While it is important to highlight, and therefore distinguish, the different forms of work-related illnesses, this systematic use of newspeak is not all good. “We observe confusion,” continues the sociologist. People don’t know if they are burned out, bored out or browned out. They are bad, they are bad. And this name, especially since it comes from a foreign language, seems to deprive them of what they feel and experience every day. These very words
lack meaning and confuse the issue. » The naming of new pathologies must never make us forget the violence of certain situations. Exhaustion, whether caused by overwork, underemployment or meaninglessness, sometimes leads to worse. It is essential to know how to recognize it and ask for help, if necessary by going to a psychologist – whose bring-out activity could be renamed, literally “to bring out, to highlight”.

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