Talent   //   June 18, 2024

That don’t impress me much: Nobody wants to hear how busy you are at work

We all know that person: forever complaining about how busy they are, always with the not-so-subtle implication that they have more to do than anybody else (including you).

Call it “busy bragging,” the latest, unfortunate result of return-to-office (RTO) policies. And while it’s hardly a new phenomenon, it can have negative effects, contributing to employee burnout and affecting a company’s ability to manage and attract talent. 

It’s also rarely a good look for the person doing it. 

“It can lead to people perceiving you as arrogant and self-centered, damage working relationships, and cause resentment and jealousy within teams, hindering collaboration,” said Keith Spencer, career expert at job search platform FlexJobs. It can lead to lower productivity and overall performance among the workforce, “as people become more concerned about appearing to be busy rather than focusing on efficiency and results.” 

Such behavior tends to happen in an environment where employees are not properly acknowledged for the work they do, according to Brian Smith, founder and managing partner of consultancy IA Business Advisors. “This lack of recognition fuels issues already present among younger generations such as poor self-perceptions, lack of self-worth and difficulty finding value in their work,” he said.

Coworkers not only can become numb to busy bragging, Smith warned — it can lead to high turnover, low morale and difficulty recruiting employees.

While people complain about how busy they are, many apparently are anything but.

Much of our presence at work these days is merely performative, according to a recent survey of 1,500 knowledge workers and HR managers in the U.S. by workplace support platform BambooHR. More than 4 in 10 workers surveyed said they feel they’re showing up at the office just to be seen by management, and nearly two-thirds of remote workers maintain an online presence even when they’re not actively working. 

As for those in the building, more than one-third said they walk around the office just so their coworkers can see them, while about the same share of employees show up earlier or leave later than their managers — again, just for appearances. 

This, as both in-office and remote workers admit to working only about three-quarters of a 9-to-5 shift, with the rest of the time spent socializing, procrastinating and doing tasks unrelated to work.

All the while, many employees continue to brag about how heavy their workload is. 

Wende Smith, head of people operations at BambooHR, said such behavior can be minimized by setting clear expectations for communication in the office, promoting work-life balance and encouraging a focus on productivity versus busyness. Addressing it directly with the employee — careful to maintain empathy and provide them with support for effective time management — is key.

As for your coworkers, let’s face it: nobody wants to hear how much work you have.  

“Overall, while it’s important to acknowledge and manage workload, focusing solely on the quantity of tasks can be seen as self-centered and uninteresting to others,” she said. “Discussing the quality of work, accomplishments and shared experiences in the workplace is often more engaging.”

“Individuals generally value colleagues who can effectively manage tasks while maintaining a healthy work-life balance,” added Rick Hammell, founder and CEO of workplace support platform Helios, advising employers that they can offset busy bragging with tools like PTO and tracking employee workload to monitor and address burnout before it disrupts business.