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The problem with busy culture in the workplace

It really only worsens the problem that it promises to solve.

By Hannah Massen

Once upon a time, the reward for hard work was time off. People would strive to maximize their leisure time, whether that meant setting work aside on the weekends or earning more vacation days. But the tables turned somewhere along the way. Ask anyone how they are, and more often than not you’ll hear some variation of “I’m so busy,” almost as if busy is a synonym for good or fine. 

If it seems like the people in your office don’t just work to live but live to work, you’re not alone. Business is seen as prestigious across most fields and industries, partially because the media portrays those who hustle as successful. We place a higher value on those who have demonstrated motivation, endurance and drive, especially in the business world. So it’s no wonder you (or your employees) feel like you need to be in an executive position, have a side hustle, and head up the PTA just to keep pace. It suggests that you’re in demand.  

But in reality, busy culture only worsens the problems that it promises to solve. When workers spread themselves too thin, it actually decreases their overall productivity. They might be so caught up in answering emails and commuting between committee meetings that they go another day without tackling that major project. And it’s the always-on mentality that leads to burnout. 

So, what’s the solution? 

Like most corporate cultures, busy culture starts at the top – but the opposite also can be true. There’s no overnight fix, but these three strategies can help leaders improve their productivity, retention and employee satisfaction rates. 

Make a work-life balance possible

Many people feel like they don’t have the means or ability to get away from the office, but some employers are looking to change that. Wellness programs are gaining in popularity, and many companies are ready and willing to sign their employees up for gym subscriptions, set them up with a standing desk, or subsidize programs that can help them address less-than-stellar health habits. Some even offer rewards ranging from $10 to $500 for completing “healthy tasks,” like getting a flu shot or competing in a triathlon. Others compensate their workers for attending professional development programs, off-site training or pursuing higher education. Some companies go so far as to offer unlimited vacation days or four-day workweeks, giving people the time and space they need to take breaks and come back to work refreshed and ready to hit the ground running. 

Allow your employees to focus on their core competencies

We all need a favor every once in a while, but if you continually ask your social media manager to assist with event planning, copywriting or reviewing monthly sales reports, your Instagram feed will start to look sparse. Employees are typically more productive when they’re allowed to focus on their responsibilities rather than taking on tasks that are out of their purview, but they feel like they can’t say no. If your employees are struggling to keep up with their core contributions because of other projects, then it might be time to make some new hires. 

Reward results instead of workload

There also will be times when your team needs to come in on the weekend to meet a tight deadline (provided that coffee and bagels are provided, of course). But incentivizing working overtime will cause your staff to drive themselves to exhaustion. Instead of offering overtime pay, encourage your employees to set clear boundaries by rewarding results over workload. For example, if an employee makes a major sale or lands a new partnership for your business, go ahead and give them a bonus. But if you imply that it’s ok – if not encouraged – to be answering emails at 8 o’clock at night with overtime pay, that discourages employees from taking the time they need to recharge.

The thought of eliminating busyness from your company culture may seem counterintuitive when your goal is to build a high-performing team. But when you focus on effectiveness over efficiency and balance over workload, your business will ultimately be more productive.

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