The managerial obsession with 'busywork' - Deepstash

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Stop giving superficial and useless work to employees just to keep them busy.


The managerial obsession with 'busywork'

The managerial obsession with 'busywork'


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The Management And Downtime: Keeping Workers Busy For No Reason

When employees are on the clock, most managers expect them to keep busy throughout the workday. This may mean either completing tasks within their remits or finding ways to make sure their hands are in some work-related project. Even when workflows deliver some downtime, the message from manageme...


The Busywork might include compiling a pointless report, colour-coding a spreadsheet or proofreading a presentation that has already been checked.

One 2016 study of 600 knowledge workers showed they spent just 

Controlling The Worker Bees

Part of the busywork problem is some managers equate busyness with productivity. 

The perception is not just that a busy worker is engaged and making an effort, but even that their industriousness gives them a higher moral value than their less busy colleagues. This sets up a dynam...

The Problem With Old School Organizations

The Busywork problem is heightened in organisations where work culture dictates that managers operate in a more traditional, authoritative style, discouraging autonomy among employees.

In these organisations, managers may also feel under pressure from their own superiors to prove that thei...

Remote Work And The Eroding Of Trust

Remote work has, in some cases, exacerbated this pressure. When employees first switched to remote work, many managers found the inability to visually monitor their employees unsettling. In the immediacy of Covid, bosses felt that if they couldn’t see employees working, then they weren’t working....

When higher-ups doubt employees’ work ethic, one solution is to micromanage their time with an endless list of tasks to keep them chained to their desks – even if some of those tasks are pointless.

Managers may not even know if an employee has finished their core work, but they are giving ...

Employees Know They Have To Look Busy

It is not just managers who equate industriousness with good performance, however. One study showed knowledge workers spend an average of 41% of their time at work on self-assigned busywork that could be delegated to others, in order to appear busier and more important at work.

Online, the ...

Managing The Lull

Some managers report lulls in work during remote set-ups have made employees uneasy. These managers start to assign busywork just to ensure that workers don't feel a void, and remain occupied.

But assigning too much busywork to mitigate guilt might mean swapping one set of negative feelings...

Wasting Countless Hours

In the long-term, frequently assigning tasks designed primarily to keep workers occupied can damage the relationship between managers and their workers. 

It can be very demotivating to the remote employee. It's a sign of lack of trust and lack of care. The real tragedy of busywork is in the...

Taking A Break Is Good

Some alternatives for busywork: Assigning the worker meaningful tasks or opportunities for growth that often gets put on the back burner, such as training.

A great way is to let employees take a breather. Numerous studies have proven the 

Busywork Leads To Burnout

When remote workers are putting in increasingly long hours, piling on endless busywork will have the opposite effect. The primary risk is that employees burn out and their mental wellness is impacted.

This Great Resignation is the result, in part, of exhausted people who are not ma...

Breaking The Cycle

Apart from giving meaningful work, another approach is to give teams autonomy, which is motivating and creates a virtuous cycle, where people want to do a good job.

Managers need to think harder about the kind of tasks they are handing out. The idea is to keep employees bus...

Ultimately, managers who feel caught in a cycle of assigning busywork should take a step back and think more broadly about what their managers want from them – rather than scrambling to keep people busy.

They're probably looking for you to generate good results and, hopefully, retain peopl...

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