Being busy defines much of contemporary life. As noted in the previous post, looking busy can become such a strong theme in a workgroup’s culture that it actively discourages people from developing a sustainable, healthy worklife.
Recently a New York Times opinion piece argued that being busy is a curse of contemporary existence. It has no redeeming value. It follows research that has demonstrated that working long hours has a much stronger connection with health problems than it has with productivity.
That article’s recommendations to take it easy, reduce one’s commitment, and enjoy the good life are appealing. They miss some dimensions of worklife that feed the spirit of business.
The broader context of the busy value is that activity builds upon itself. Across the post-industrial world, countries experience high levels of unemployment while working people feel increasingly overwhelmed by their work demands. To some extent the issue rests upon employers’ reluctance to increase their workforce to meet demand. But another perspective is that work demands build upon one anther effortlessly.
A capable person participating in a variety of work-related networks is a valuable resource. Many people will want a piece of that resource. With boundaries dissolving between work and the rest of one’s life, the extent and availability of that resource remains fuzzy. Others will make requests or even demands on that resource, especially if they can access it at no additional cost.
Busy as a Defense
The burden of maintaining boundaries and a reasonable pace of worklife falls heavily upon individuals. Claiming to be busy can be a practical defense to ward off additional demands on one’s time. Rather than being a point of pride or a whiny complaint, claiming to be busy can be a strategic defense.
What to Do
The workgroup culture can help individuals manage demands to maintain a sustainable, healthy worklife.
• Focus on outcomes over inputs: It’s not the hours but team’s contributions that matter.
• Support flexible work: A little bit of facetime in the office may suffice. Many people are more productive away from the worksetting.
• Reduce time-consuming overhead: Efficiency in designing forms, travel claims, and other office bureaucracy will always be appreciated.