The Busyness Syndrome: What Is It And How To Ensure Your Employees Don’t Fall Prey To It!

The Busyness Syndrome: What Is It And How To Ensure Your Employees Don’t Fall Prey To It!

The latest bug in the corporate world is the busy bee! Though it is not completely new, it is evolving at an alarming rate to become a leading cause of diminishing productivity.

Projecting busyness has become a statement for social and moral superiority. But it can have an adverse impact on one’s work.

In the corporate world, it is not so uncommon to hear variants of these phrases: ‘I don’t know how I’m going to find time for that’, ‘the time pressure is significant’ and ‘I have so much work!’

What Is Busyness Syndrome

As people heave exasperated sighs and are pressed for time, let us take a moment to analyse the changing meaning of the word ‘busy’, understand its implications and identify practices to manage our schedules in a better way.

What Exactly Is The ‘Busyness’ Syndrome?

For a lot of them, power dressing, parading around with phones in hands and with serious expressions on faces while spewing generic jargon has become a fashionable thing to do (even when not necessary). This is perceived to make one feel more important.

However, it does not always mean that the person is being productive. One can add mundane, everyday tasks to their list of tasks to make themselves feel that they are getting more done and project this image onto others.

A person can also fill their schedule with simple tasks, instead of proactively looking for more meaningful work or more efficient ways of doing the same work. This is a classic example of ‘idleness aversion’, which involves sidelining substantial work for displaying more check marks on their to-do list. This hampers both the productivity and the quality of work done by an employee.

Understanding The ‘Why’ Behind The Busyness Syndrome

We are living in the era of exponential growth in competition. Access to technology opens up avenues for those who are skilled but not necessarily privileged and brings new skills to the attention of recruiters. Informational efficiency sharpens fresh talent further, making them more viable in the labour market.

Given this background, remaining relevant in a time where ‘survival of the fittest’ is still a mantra at the workplace, becomes challenging. Almost everyone clamours for recognition from superiors and colleagues.

A short-term solution for this is to emphasise how tightly packed one’s schedule is, which communicates that they have many tasks to complete, indicating that they are organised, productive, dedicated and hard-working.

This, in turn, gives off the vibe that they are very important and hence indispensable for the team or organisation. The busyness syndrome is driven by fear and/or a bloated ego.

Problems Caused By Busyness Syndrome

Why This Issue Needs To Be Addressed – Pronto!

  • Important work is not prioritised. When talent focuses on setting an impression of being needed whilst not actually contributing to the betterment of the organisation, the company loses out on efficiency and effectiveness.
  • Unfair recognition. The false sense of productivity can make one feel more entitled to recognition. If superiors and/or HR fall prey to this syndrome, they might end up rewarding an actual non-performer and fail to recognise a core contributor.
  • Affects organisational culture. If there is a victim of busyness syndrome among employees of the same level, inflated egos affect interactions, causing frustration among other employees, which can affect their morale and ultimately, work culture.
  • Stress. As employees jump on this bandwagon to ensure that they survive the cutthroat competition, it adds unnecessary worries and induces negative thought processes in their minds.

Ways Of Getting Rid Of The Busyness Syndrome!

There are certain practices which can help in bringing awareness to the issue and then eliminating it. While it would be better if these are done in the order mentioned, some overlap is quite normal and one must also consider the feasibility of the changes at a particular time before taking a decision. Here are the steps.

1. Effecting a shift in perception

The first and foremost step in eradicating this issue is to create awareness and acceptance.

While most employees may be able to recognise it, they have to understand that it a very short-term solution that will harm them as well as the organisation in the long run. Some may know it, but may not be able to accept the ill effects of busyness syndrome.

The organisation needs to induce a change in perception along with an influx of knowledge. At the end of this exercise, the employees must ready to welcome the changes.

2. Establishing metrics and recognition for actual productivity

The HR team must establish certain objective metrics that measure true productivity and accomplishment of important tasks. These should then be communicated to other teams so that superiors have a solid measuring scale to refer to instead of basing the work of an employee on how busy he/she seems.

Discussions can be held to distinguish between tasks of various priority and difficulty levels, stages of a particular task, assessing completion levels and the quality of work. Employees should be recognised and appreciated based on these standards rather than the self-imposed workload.

How To Get Rid Of Busyness Syndrome

3. Soft-skill training

Once the organisation at large has grasped the idea that the busyness syndrome is not beneficial (the result of step 1) and has understood what construes actual productivity (from step 2), they need to be equipped with the skills to implement the change.

In the context of this particular topic, time-management, organisation and prioritisation are of extreme importance. Since work varies from team to team, it is not possible to have a standardised template for planning activities, budgeting resource requirements and breaking them down into bite-sized tasks which can be completed daily.

However, the training should impart the knowledge and train employees in such a way that they can come up with personalised task lists, to combat the busyness syndrome.

4. Leading by example

The senior management and influential persons in an organisation must ensure that they proactively take steps to avoid projecting busyness at the cost of productivity.

Managing their time well and focusing on top priority tasks, even if there is no instant appreciation, will help them be better at their work and also inspire other employees to follow suit. Thus, fighting the busyness syndrome at an individual level positively impacts the greater good.

Emphasizing the importance of having free time to introspect, nurture relationships and indulge in meaningful activities can make employees get over the busyness syndrome and create a more productive workplace!


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