Being addicted to work has become a new humble-brag meant primarily to impress the people you are talking with.

I have a good friend who is a restaurateur and an excellent chef. But if I got a ringgit for every time he moans about how busy, tired or exhausted he is, I would certainly be a richer man.

I have another person I work with who insist that they are very meticulous in everything they does. So whenever I am unhappy with the speed with which things get done, this “mantra” is repeated to me.

Of course, when I decided to test their meticulousness, I find many gaping holes in this claim.

The world seems to be filled with people who are always “too busy” or “too exhausted” or “have way too much to do”. I am sure you see this on your social media feeds. Your friends are constantly putting posts about how tired, busy, and complicated their lives are.

I was recently chatting with a friend about a new inspiring television programme that I recommended he watches for enrichment. He looked at me, full of earnestness, and said “I just wish I had more time to watch television”.

These kinds of conversations have become commonplace in our society.

I suggest that there are two main reasons for this “busyness-syndrome”. The first is that being busy is, in fact, a status symbol, and the second is that being busy means you are in demand.

Being addicted to work has become a new humble-brag meant primarily to impress the people you are talking with. The top status symbol for people is no longer the stylish holiday, or the newest gadget you’ve bought; it is whining about having no time.

A study in 2017 that was published in the Journal of Consumer Research called “Conspicuous Consumption of Time: When Busyness and Lack of Leisure Time Become a Status Symbol” supports this.

The study concluded that telling everyone how busy you are, and running from meeting to meeting does not necessarily mean that you are actually more productive.

But here’s the irony.


When you have too much to do, kick-back and think about what actually needs to be done right-away and what can be done later.

The research also shows that if you rush around, and make sure everyone knows about it, people will essentially think you are of a higher status and importance, than you really are.

This is why people seem to shout from the top of their social media platforms that they are so busy. It obviously gives the perception that they are so important, even though they are not.

Being busy has truly become a prestigious status symbol for many people.

The other reason for showing that you are busy is about how in demand you are. I noticed this in one of my leadership coaching programmes with a government linked investment company (GLIC).

This company thrives on its reputation for hiring the best in class, paying their staff top-notch wages with great bonuses, but being demanding about employees being “on-call” all the time.

In a coaching session, one of its directors lamented to me that the company had a “busyness problem”.

Many of the employees in this GLIC felt pressured to act busy even when they were not. Often, they would not be “available” for meetings or discussions, even if they were free. Most of the team felt it was crucial to show that you didn’t have too much free time.

And, it became an unwritten rule that no one left the office until the bosses did.

The real problem arose when everyone was acting busier than they were, usual being hectic with unproductive tasks. Ultimately, this led to a tremendous inefficiency of work, as staff felt they had to spend unnecessary time on tasks they had already completed.

But, here’s the secret!

I have understood through observing successful people that when they are balanced, they don’t complain about being busy. They usually work longer and harder than the rest of us.

And, they are happy.

Just this week I told a coachee when she said she was “super-busy” that to me, the way she said she was busy was in fact a code for saying she had her priorities are out of synch.

Yes, people are busy, but I also know that moaning about being busy doesn’t make you any less “busy”.

Having learnt from people who are balanced, I now understand how to deal with busyness.

When I find that I have too much to do, I kick-back and think about what actually needs to be done right away, and what can be flagged off to a later.

If I am busy to the point that I am getting exhausted, I take a day or two off.

If I am continuously busy, and it affects my productivity, I take a step back and re-evaluate my purpose. I focus on thinking about what needs to be corrected to get me back on track.

I think moaning about busy often means that you just have cognitive dissonance. This is when your thoughts, beliefs and behaviours are completely disconnected to each other.

Get connected to why you do what you do, and be happily productive, without complaining to the world.

Shankar R. Santhiram is managing consultant and executive leadership coach at EQTD Consulting. He is also the author of the national bestseller “So, You Want To Get Promoted?”

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