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Why “It’s Just the way Work is” Doesn’t Cut It, Employees Didn’t Create The Busyness Mess

I came across an article this weekend, with quotes from a “Leadership Coach” who had quite a lot to say about how “busyness” gets in the way of being really productive, and she had a lot of really great ideas for how everyone should schedule their day so that they aren’t interrupted and can get really productive work done. On the other hand, I’m gonna call shenanigans on this quote:

While Everett doesn’t believe that our collective obsession with busyness is anyone’s fault – “it’s just the way work has become” – she does believe we have the power to unplug ourselves from this way of working and make ‘crazy busyness’ a thing of the past, especially now many people are adopting a ‘hybrid’ way of working and gaining more control over their working lives.


“Achieving [a ‘happy productive’ state] means that we’ve got to be a bit ruthless – we’ve got to learn to say no, we’ve got to push back, and we’ve got to say to people ‘I’m not going to be available for a couple of hours’,” she says.

That all sounds well and good, but let me ask you a question. How many of you work in a place, or for a boss where this would be acceptable? I’m going to guess that a fair number (most?) of the people would do exactly this to avoid burnout, only they can’t. They are 100% expected to be available all of the time, and they are not given the chance to not be available for a couple of hours in the middle of the workday, because they would then get called out for not being a team player if someone actually wanted to ask them a question during that time, or god help them, a manager was waiting on a response to an email.

Putting this on individual employees is a cop-out. Saying this isn’t anyone’s fault is a cop-out. This obsession with busyness is a direct result of poor management. There was no mass movement of employees who decided that appearing busy was more important than getting real work done, they simply responded to incentives, and the incentives have favored people who don’t make time to be productive, but are also quick to respond, no matter how unproductive it made them, and until recently, were also the ones sitting at their desks for long hours. People who tried to avoid this, and unplug from work? Yeah right, again, this wasn’t something employees just decided to do on their own. They responded to poor management.

In fact, I’d be willing to bet the people who really got ahead in many industries, were most successful in not getting involved in many projects that would have required them to set aside time to focus and get things done, as opposed to getting more acknowledgment for all the things they are constantly accomplishing, by just doing those short, “busy” tasks. While the folks who set aside time to be “unavailable” and be productive, probably got asked why they didn’t hop on that chat conversation or provide an answer right away.

I guarantee you, none of the people you work for decided to be “crazy busy” on their own. They are simply responding to leadership. If you want to change this, it has to come from the top.


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