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5 Reasons We Can’t Let Go of Our Busyness at Work

“I am so busy. “ “I was working on that presentation until 1 a.m.” “My to-do list is as long as the Nile!”

Have you heard any of those complaints/brags? Have you uttered them yourselves? I know I have on more than one occasion.

Most of us are constantly rushed and overloaded. And we don’t seem to mind it that much. The corporate world has programmed us to value busyness and overworking. So much so that when I was doing my research for this post, nearly half the studies I found had discovered that working longer hours leads to increased job satisfaction.

This truly puzzled me. Why would you prefer crunching numbers in Excel than having a Mojito at the bar or playing Uno with your kid? (Though I can answer that last one – because he has a meltdown when he loses, and you want to wring his pretty little neck).

To stave off the fear

Everyone who has worked in the corporate world for more than a couple of years becomes a proud owner of a persistent underlying feeling of insecurity. Corporations do not truly care about people. In all honesty, they can’t. Otherwise, they will not be able to conduct their business.

For most employees who are not privy to the company’s inner workings, the organizational decisions about who gets hired or fired do not always seem logical or fair. And always brings up the question: “What if I am the next they decide they don’t need?”

So we try to make ourselves indispensable. And since being busy and working long hours has become synonymous with commitment to your job, this is the first thing we try.

This, of course, is an illusion. You are not indispensable to anyone except maybe your family and friends. But it gives us the necessary assuredness to keep us going.

To gain advantage

Busyness has begun to equal higher results in our minds. And we have started to associate working long hours with success and more elevated organizational stations. Thus we overload ourselves with more and more work in the hope that this will make us more promotable and get us higher pay in the future.

For employees with paid overtime, this is actually true, and they can increase their earnings. For the rest of us, though, the correlation between higher compensation and long working hours is far less direct.

To fit in

When you enter a team or organization whose culture promotes extensive working hours and being busy, it is often difficult to maintain a sane approach towards your time commitments towards your job.

One of the teams I managed until recently comprised a small group of highly driven individuals. For years, they had put work first. They had built strong personal relationships, and their team ethos required that they don’t stop working until all the tasks for the day were completed.

But times changed. The amount of work grew extensively, and no matter how late they stayed, they could not complete all tasks for the day. At the same time, the team started growing, and some of the new joiners cherished their work-life balance and were not inclined to do extended overtime.

When talking to the team’s manager, I could clearly hear the resentment she and the rest of the more tenured employees felt for those newcomers. While she understood that the team’s previous manner of work and culture are now obsolete on an intellectual level, she could not help but feel that the new team members are not as committed as their more tenured colleagues.

We started changing the team’s culture small step by small step to adapt to the new realities (changing a culture is a very long process). But in the meantime, some of the newcomers did not make it and were forced out of the team. Others contracted the “busyness” disease and could be found online at all times of the day and night.

To feel important

The sad truth is that our jobs lack meaning for many of us. Being very busy is one way to convince ourselves that what we do is important. And as a consequence, we are important. We spend a huge portion of our lives at work, and it would be intolerable to accept that all our time and efforts lack any significance.

I am one of the people who (used to) find validation in how much work I do. I often feel very insecure in my knowledge, expertise, and the value I bring to the organization. At such moments, having 15 meetings a day and that time I worked 36 hours straight come as solace that I am needed and worthy.

To finish that last email

And sometimes the work is just too much.

This is the most dangerous reason for busyness. While the others discussed here are a matter of personal choice, the overwhelming workload is something that is forced upon us and over which we have no control.

Research shows that the mismatch between the amount of work and the resources (time and people) to complete it are among the top reasons for burnout and workplace stress.

And here, we, as managers, have a big responsibility. In most situations, we think that pushing our team harder and harder to complete all the work is the best way to protect the business’s interests. However, the only thing this can lead to exhausted, demotivated employees and eventually turnover.

In the long run, the more practical solution is to insist that your employees work in moderate amounts and secure more resources. Unfortunately, this may require letting some things break for a while to demonstrate to leadership the team’s resource needs.

But hey, we all know that leadership requires courage.

Let’s conclude…

…with glamorizing hard work and long working hours. Let’s look inside and recognize the false assumptions about what being constantly busy will bring us.

As leaders, let’s help our teams feel valued and successful without breaking their backs. Let’s reward smart work and not just hard work. And let’s bring fun back to the workplace.

I myself experimented and saw that I could be just as successful and achieve just as much (if not more) working 9-10 hrs a day instead of 12-13 hrs. Now I plan to see what will happen if I work 8-9 hrs.

I will let you know how it goes.

1 thought on “5 Reasons We Can’t Let Go of Our Busyness at Work”

  1. Hi Marta,
    I’m trying to work smarter and not so busy these days. It’s easy when you run your own business than when working for someone else I’ve found. I used to busy with meetings but not so much anymore. What a timesaver!

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