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Why You Should Stop “Looking Busy”

17 July 2018
Besma Whayeb
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Time theft is something all employers are trying to crack down on. It sounds pretty scary – are you a time criminal?! – but in actual fact, it relates to when an employee receives pay from their employer for work that they haven’t actually done, or for time they haven’t actually put into their work.

It’s understandable that businesses want to get the best out of their employees while they’re at work, but it’s not easy to detect, and may even be an outdated approach…

The Act of “Looking Busy”

With almost all jobs, the workload isn’t consistent. In an office, you might have busier days – Monday is definitely busier than Friday – and in restaurants, there will be peak service times. Even surgeons have their off days, with more operations likely to go wrong later in the week!

In quieter periods, some workplaces experience what is known as the Looking Busy Effect. Essentially, employees will find ways to stay occupied and look productive, so that they don’t look suspicious to their managers and bosses.

This is so widespread that there are guides to looking busy, and even memes about doing just that.

Break the Taboo

There’s good reason why people want to look busy. The New York Times attributes it to a fear of being laid off, and for jobs with hourly pay, you may be sent home early – without those few extra hours’ pay.

None of this is good for the business you work for, or for your job. Just as a team should pull together to beat a problem, both workers who aren’t busy and their managers should find ways to overcome this issue and create something productive.

It might be hard to approach a senior member of your team when you have no more work to do, but by showing that you’re efficient, diligent, and honest, you can actually turn a lack of work into career progression.

1. More Responsibilities, More Opportunities

If you’re experiencing a chronic period of looking busy, it may be worth asking for more work. This can earn you respect and recognition from your manager, and also open up new opportunities, and promotional positions to grow into.

2. Explore New Projects

Certain businesses are used to working on big, set projects, such as creative agencies or law firms. When there’s a lull in work, it can be an opportunity to pick up pro bono work, or internal projects that will in turn boost reputation and strengthen client relationships.

3. Put the Hours In Another Day

As workplaces become more and more flexible in their approach to work, it might be worth enquiring about flexible working hours. While this may take more persuasion and time to achieve, it will put an end to looking busy, and also make staff more productive.

4. Value Down Time

Businesses are now cottoning on that their employees may respond better to different ways of working – and part of that includes valuing down time. Just as some people are “morning people”, others can work in fits and starts, and some prefer to achieve a state of flow. If you’re experiencing a dry spell with work, it may be a good opportunity to reflect on your usual working patterns and see if there’s anything you can improve, as well as valuing a bit of peace and quiet!

5. Seek Out Personal Development

Rather than twiddling your thumbs, down time may prove useful for developing certain skills. Learning a new program such as Photoshop or Salesforce benefits both yourself and your workplace, as well as your C.V.

6. Heed the Warning Signs

And finally, if your workplace consistently doesn’t have enough work, it may be a sign that the business isn’t doing well. If this lack of new business is out of your control, it may be worth starting a job search before your position disappears, or the whole ship sinks..!