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#sowhoknew: Saying you are always busy at work is damaging your career

How many people do you know are always complaining that they are too busy at work?

My plate is full. I’m stacked out. I’m swamped. I’ve got a lot going on. I’m tied up. I’m literally run off my feet.

And how many times do you believe people when they use these phrases?


The truth is that when people brag about being super busy at work, no-one is ever impressed. And, according to experts, you can actually sabotage your career prospects by constantly whining about how busy you are. Everyone is busy at work at some stage and we are all working longer hours so constantly claiming you are busier than your colleagues just gets right up their noses.

It’s also perceived as you sucking up to the management to get ahead of your team mates. Glorifying being busy is often perpetuated by senior management and that message is conveyed to the rest of the workplace. So if you aspire to climb the greasy pole then some people feel compelled to say that they are busy even when they are not. After a while, the behaviour becomes ingrained and the default response to any simple question like “how are you?’ becomes related to how “snowed under” you are.

According to US based HR expert Ed Baldwin: “The real message you’re sending is ‘I’m not very good at prioritising my time’ and, at the moment, you’re not a priority at all”

Busyness and lack of leisure time have become a status symbols for those who have nothing better to do with their lives. I recently wrote an article about Jack Ma who has been encouraging his employees to adopt a 996 work ethic (that is working from 9am to 9pm 6 days a week) if they want to get ahead – but, of course, they will not get paid any more for working all that overtime. That kind of crazy working regimen is leading to well publicised mental health issues and even suicides due to overwork.

On the one hand when people talk about their heightened levels of busyness it makes them feel empowered because it justifies their existence and they believe that family / friends will be impressed. And on the flip side, there are also those who want to come across as being stoic in face of mounting pressure which makes them look powerful and resilient to any kind of obstacle. In reality, neither of those things are true.

One person I worked with several years ago always claimed she was busy and had to work late every night. Interestingly until just after 10pm every night. Everyone assumed she was the most hardworking person in the office. Not true. It transpires that she only stayed that late because she could claim a meal and a taxi home each night for working past 10pm. She was costing the company thousands of dollars each year. When I asked her about it she admitted that she stayed at the office to use the computers to watch videos, listen to music or chat on social networks to her friends. Then she got her free meal and ride home on the company.

Laura Simms is a risk and safety specialist who has offers some meaningful advice: “I’m really irritated when I hear the ‘b’ word. It’s meaningless. I would rather someone say ‘I’m entering a $100,000 order right now and I’ll be pleased to get back to you at 4pm’. ‘Busy’ dismisses the other person and does not give them an opportunity to get on your priority list”

Entrepreneur Jason Fried nails it when he says: “Workaholics aren’t heroes. They don’t save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is home because she figured out a faster way.”

So what do you think? Do you agree with me that those who constantly go on about their heavy workload are not only irritating, they are also damaging their long term career prospects? Or do you think that claiming that they are always busy is a perfectly acceptable positive mindset and demonstrates that the individual just wants to be successful.

As ever I am keen to hear your thoughts…

Steve Blakeman

Steve Blakeman is the Global Media Lead - Nestlé at Mindshare. Previously, he was the Managing Director - Global Accounts, OMD Europe. Previously, he was the CEO, Asia Pacific – OMD. Prior to that, he was Global Chief Integration Strategy Officer (Asia Pacific) for IPG Mediabrands (Initiative & Universal McCann). He has also had stints as worked as Managing Partner at Omnicom Media Group owned media agency, PHD where he successfully launched their second office in the UK. He began his career at JWT and has over two decades of experience in advertising, media and marketing communications.