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workplace culture

Top Reasons Why Leaders Need to End the Workplace Culture of “Being Busy”

***Updated on 19 April, 2021

Why “busy” workplace culture is toxic for teams

Are your employees always telling you that they’re busy? When colleagues or friends ask you how you are, do you regularly respond with something like “I’m good, just really busy”? In today’s working culture, being busy is often equated with being productive and successful. But busyness and productivity are not the same things. In fact, busy culture destroys productivity and pulls us away from deeper relationships with both colleagues and loved ones.

While there will always be busy periods, being constantly busy will not deliver the best results for your organisation or team. Busyness prevents effective management and stops us from:

  • Focussing on what really matters – if your to-do list is never-ending, it’s easy to fill your days with business-as-usual tasks, rather than starting those higher-value projects.
  • Being creative – our best ideas often come to us when we’ve got space to disconnect from the day-to-day.
  • Being strategic – leaders need to pause, assess and reflect on the direction and strategy of the team and organisation. Being too busy with immediate tasks prevents longer-term thinking.
  • Concentrating on our people – if leaders are too busy with tasks, team communication and relationships suffer.

A recent Atlassian data analysis on user behaviour has shown that, for many, the workday is well and truly spilling over to our personal lives. Remote work setups  are making it increasingly difficult to switch between work and home life with many working through break times and after hours.

Busy culture can easily lead to increased stress and burnout. As leaders, we have a responsibility to stop unproductive busyness. Now that we understand why busyness needs to stop, here are our tips on how to stop busyness in your workplace culture.

#1 – Set boundaries

Now that many of us are working in distributed teams, it can be challenging to set boundaries between work and family life. If we see our leaders or managers sending emails on weekends or evenings, we might assume that they’re always working. We feel the pressure to respond, even though it’s out of office hours.

workplace culture

As managers, we should recognise the power of social norms and make downtime more visible to the team. It can be as simple as sharing your calendar so people can see your scheduled lunch breaks. You could also set core contact hours together as a team, to encourage employees to have healthy boundaries between work and rest.

#2 – Schedule time to pause and reflect

To fight a busy culture, we need to pause and give ourselves and our teams the time and space to reflect. It’s worth getting off the daily grind to question and think about how we can best achieve our goals.

Set aside time in the calendar once a month to reflect as a team. Agree on the top priorities for the team and remove unnecessary tasks or meetings. Discuss as a team what your urgent and essential tasks are, and make sure there’s enough capacity in the team to finish those important but not critical tasks. Protect your team’s time by helping employees to say “no” to non-critical tasks.

#3 – Focus on your core value-add

Countering busy culture means knowing your core value-add, and saying “no” to tasks where your value-add is minimal. As managers, you can set an excellent example by visibly saying “no” to non-critical work. Managers can also help each team member confirm what their value-add should be and align it with the purpose of the organisation.

Being clear about your value-add is great for building a results-based mindset, instead of an hours-based attitude.

workplace culture

#4 – Be a good role model

Last on our list of how to stop busyness in your workplace culture, set a good example and be accountable for stopping busyness. Be more visible about how you’re spending your time and tell your team when you’re consciously pausing from delivering to think and reflect. Being open about how you’re spending downtime makes it acceptable and normal for others to do the same.

By holding yourself accountable for how you manage your time, you will make more conscious choices to focus on what matters and stop just being busy.

Being busy doesn’t mean that you’re more productive or achieving your goals. At PEP, we say that it’s not just doing things the right way that matters – doing the right things matters too. Could your team benefit from extra support or training to help them be more effective?

PEP has been helping people focus on the right things for over 30 years. Our Remote Program can help you and team to stop the busyness and work more effectively. Learn how we can help you increase productivity and have more time for the things that matter.

By Simon Nicholls



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