It’s Time to Rethink Busyness!

By Jessica Speas posted 03-07-2023 21:19

Busyness image

“I am so busy!”

How often have you heard that sentence when asking people how they are, whether they be family, friends and your own staff?

True confession: When I hear people say they are “so busy,” it kind of drives me bonkers! True, I like to have lots of projects on my plate and I think I perform better when I do. But what exactly does being “so busy” mean? How is it quantifiable and why does our culture praise people who say this?

These were the questions circling in my head while I squeezed in some professional reading during a recent vacation, (the absurdity of this is not lost on me). The article that caught my eye, published in Harvard Business Review, was titled “Beware a Culture of Busyness.” Author Adam Waytz shared a story about a man who immigrated to the United States and soon came to believe that the word “busy” meant “good” because when he asked people how they were doing, they all responded, “Busy.”

He went on to point out the irony that “Busyness has become a status symbol. People also consider those who exert high effort to be ‘morally admirable,’ regardless of their output.” 

There lies the rub…regardless of their output!

If people are just spinning their wheels, jumping from task to task without a process and without efficiencies that yield output just because it makes them look important to be busy, does their state of busyness really matter? I would have to say it does not. 

“Evaluating employees on how busy they are is a terrible way to identify the most creative and productive talent,” Waytz writes. And indeed he is correct. In fact, his article got me thinking about revisiting the way I ask simple questions to check in with the team. What is the purpose of asking “how was the office today?” or “how was your day?” when the answer (or shall I say “non-answer?”) will always be the same: BUSY! 

Instead, I think the best questions to ask team members are those that elicit measurable updates - progress on patients treated, employees’ experience with a new technology purchased, the status of an interview process. Real Questions that yield real answers…that’s what I hope to change.

And just so my staff members do not feel like I am firebombing them with questions, I plan to work with them to fine-tune daily goals and KPIs that we all agree on. That way, when I ask those REAL QUESTIONS, there is a reason for them, and we all know why they are being asked.

Fortunately for those who have grown exhausted trying to demonstrate their professional busyness, Waytz tells us that that a cultural shift – most likely due to a tight labor market and that awful thing that happened in 2020 - “has changed the corporate zeitgeist.” He adds, “my sense is that managers are now more open to reconsidering the value of busyness than they have in a long time.”

And to that I say: It is about time! Will I still enjoy juggling multiple projects? Absolutely, because that is how I work best.  But, I promise you this, the next time you ask me how my day was, I won’t use “the B word.” 

Jessica Speas, CVPM, SPHR, PHR-ca, SHRM-SCP, CCFP
VHMA President


1 comment



03-16-2023 12:55

Amen.  I hear BUSY from people who do not understand the meaning of the word BUSY, because I know what their production number is, and if I did that small production number, I would be bored crazy.  Falls in line with the term "staff utilization".  Most DVMs say they do it to the highest level.  They don't know what that looks like.  That's why my staff DVMs can produce 2x the national average and be less BUSY than those who produce average numbers.  We don't have a DVM shortage.  We have a production shortage because people are too BUSY.