HR Strange But True!
February 04, 2009
As the economy slows, layoffs mount, and business drops off, a growing number of employees are working hard, not at being productive but at looking busy and indispensible, the New York Times reports.

The workers fear that they will join the ranks of laid-off workers if the boss sees how little work they have to do. Therefore, some engage in busywork (for example, reorganizing files). Others try to trick the boss into thinking they are working late nights.

“You don't want anyone from corporate to walk in and see you doing nothing,” a woman who works at a clothing boutique tells the newspaper. “You've got to keep busy for them and the clients. You have to be proactive.”

Even when the economy is good, some workers go to great lengths to look busy, but they are usually the slackers who are goofing off on company time. When the economy turns for the worse, every employee wants to look indispensible and some start using the same techniques perfected by the slacker, the newspaper notes

The newspaper found several employees who are employing ways to look busy:

  • An attorney, who wanted the boss to think he was working late into the night, brought an oscillating fan to his office so that it would produce movement and the lights wouldn't dim when he left his office.
  • A sales associate refolds clothes even though they are folded perfectly already
  • A worker in the financial industry scatters papers on his desk
  • An advertising executive is busy but not at the advertising business. While at the office, he is designing toys for the baby he is expecting. His computer is facing toward the window in his office building so no one can see what he has on his computer screen.
  • Many workers are spending their time with busywork because they have no real work to do. The newspaper spoke with a professor who notes that busywork probably does more for the individual's psyche than for the company's productivity.

“It may have an individual value for the person who is doing it. It's difficult going into work and having nothing to do,” Eric Abrahamson, a professor at Columbia Business School , tells the newspaper. Especially for people who are used to being overwhelmed with work.”

Another professor has a warning for workers.

“This is a bad time to manage the impression that you're a hard worker,” Robert Giacalone, a professor at Temple University's business school, tells the newspaper. “There's fear out there, and that fear generates suspicion among people in power that workers are trying to manipulate their images because they're afraid.”

Source: New York Times

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