The unworkable culture of ‘busyness’

Being busy has become a bit of status symbol. But what’s behind this and why is it leading to problems?

David Quinn: BrightHR Social Media Manager

Once upon a time, status symbols included taking long holidays, lazy days by the pool and getting away from it all. Now, like a Brothers Grimm fairy tale with no happy ending, rest and recreation are passé, replaced by busyness and non-stop work.

According to a Journal of Consumer Research study, showing off about a hectic life is the new ‘it’.Humblebragging’, as it’s being called, is when people boast about how overworked they are to prove that they’re in high demand. Humblebrags are disguised as moans, but they secretly crave praise for being so highly sought-after.

But this attitude to work has lead to problems.

The destruction of the work-life balance

Countless apps, 24/7 internet access and smartphones are some of the technology that muddy the waters between work and private lives. Technological advances intended to make working lives easier are now resulting in people being held hostage by their jobs as there’s an expectation that if you're not available to answer the email you'll be perceived negatively.

To highlight the problem one French MP told the BBC "Employees physically leave the office, but they do not leave their work. They remain attached by a kind of electronic leash - like a dog...” Accordingly, France introduced a law banning work emails after hours.

But for the rest of us being constantly connected has become the norm. However, our inability to wind-down and to relax could have more serious consequences.

Too busy to take time off

Speaking of taking time off, according to ACAS, just half of UK employees take their full holiday entitlement and 44% worked while they were on leave. The reasons for working on holiday included:

  • Fear of falling behind at work
  • Hoping to get a pay rise
  • No one else could continue the work
  • Worry about of losing a job

Although holidays are meant to be a time to relax, it now seems it’s our busy culture has resulted in taking your work on holiday with you, if you even take a holiday that is.

But taking time off from work isn’t a ‘nice-to-have,’ it’s a ‘need-to-have.’ Helping your employees to take time off all comes down to organising workloads. If you create the right systems for work to continue, your staff can get a work-free break and come back recharged, refreshed and more productive.

Mental health issues

The Mental Health at Work Report 2016 found that 62% of employees blamed their poor mental health symptoms on work, or said work was a contributing factor. However, there’s a disconnect between the perception and the reality of how employers deal with mental health issues. Only 11% of employees talked about their mental health problem with a manager, but 60% of senior managers and board members believed their business supports people with mental health issues.

There are many ways you can improve mental health in your workplace, including:

  • Incorporating mental health awareness in training
  • Encouraging open communication
  • Monitoring workloads
  • Using external support services

Increased stress levels

Stress is the most common reason for long-term absence in the UK. The Health and Safety Executive states that 37% of all work-related illness is due to stress and in 2015/16, 45% of lost working days were put down to stress.

Workloads are the main cause of this stress amongst employees and it’s easy to see why as the never-ending ‘busyness treadmill’ can lead to burnout. A Virgin survey found that 51% of participants experienced anxiety or burnout in their current job. It’s therefore in everyone’s best interests for you to find ingenious ways to make workloads manageable without negatively affecting your business. Working smarter, not longer, is the order of the day, for the health of your staff and your business.


‘Presenteeism’ often sneaks under the radar, unlike its close relative absenteeism. This symptom of job insecurity sees staff working longer hours, coming into work when they’re ill, injured or distressed and taking too few holidays. Research shows that 52% of workers in the UK still go to work when their performance is negatively affected by work-related health issues.

These health and/or personal issues lead to a loss of productivity because, although they’re physically present, your staff are unable to work effectively. Spotting the signs, however, can be difficult, as many will play down the severity of any condition.

Decreased productivity

Staff who aren’t constantly snowed under are less likely to be stressed. Less stress means happier staff, which translates to more loyalty and higher productivity. For some reason, the old school thinking that longer hours equals better work is hard to shift.  There have been several studies that have rubbished this myth. Think tank, The Smith Institute, produced a study demonstrating that two-thirds of employees are working longer, but only 10% feel they’re more productive. There’s clear evidence that busyness and long hours don’t add up to better quality work.

Burst the busyness bubble -  become a lazy genius

So how do we start to rectify this problem culture of busyness? One way could be to work lazy.

Not to be confused with being lazy, working lazy is working smarter. It’s about prioritising tasks that make a difference to business growth while freeing up time, leading by example and getting more done. If you’re looking for a happy medium check out The Lazy Manifesto. The concept is so simple, it’s genius.

So, stop being a busy fool and start being a lazy genius. Download the Lazy Manifesto now!