News

Time trap: Make busyness the norm

  Because our self-perception is wrapped in layers of work and productivity, the appearance of being busy in society makes us feel good. Being busy makes us feel hard-working and needed.
  Our identities and jobs are more connected than ever before. Numerous data show that more and more people living in the United States are finding meaning in their work, rather than in friends, family or hobbies.
  The idea of ​​work as the primary source of meaning in life has been around for decades, but what popular press articles call “workism” is a recent and growing phenomenon. As the saying goes, work to live. Today, many people live to work. A 2017 survey found that 95% of 18- to 25-year-olds said it was “extremely important” to them to have a “pleasant and rewarding career”.
  Compared to my own college days, today’s college students’ attitudes toward school are surprisingly different. Students approached me in droves, anxiously asking me questions about career paths and internship opportunities, hoping to choose the best and most correct career path. A student once met with me five times in a semester to clarify his future plans.
  Busyness at work is now also a status symbol due to the importance we place on work. We wear busyness like a badge of honor, and want to be seen as our employees with the longest hours (even if those hours aren’t very productive). A colleague named Peter told me that he used to be in the office until 7 p.m., even when he wasn’t at work, just to have the HR system record his presence. Peter is paid a fixed salary, so there is no immediate incentive for him to work past 5pm. But tens of millions of Peters around the world proudly post announcements on social media that they don’t stop at work, and forget about social activities because of sleepless nights.
  Growing economic instability has also contributed to the prevalence of workism. Those who are well-fed fear that things will take a nosedive in the future, while those who are barely making ends meet fear that they will fall further behind.
  The vast majority of us respond by working more hours and trying to make more money. We instinctively rank useful time spent with ourselves, friends, and family as an option. We voluntarily give up vacation time so as not to give the impression of not working hard. We feel guilty for spending money on things that bring us joy, like dining out or traveling on vacation.
  This fear is deep-seated, sometimes brought on by the inequality experienced at an early age. When we asked respondents about inequalities in their upbringing and the importance of money to them today, my colleagues and I found that the greater the income inequality experienced as a child, the easier it was to admit that their self-esteem would affected by income. Regardless of where you live or how much money you have at the moment, the economic instability you experience growing up can intensify long-term concerns about money in adulthood.
  Because our self-perception is wrapped in layers of work and productivity, the appearance of being busy in society makes us feel good. Being busy makes us feel hard-working and needed. By contrast, focusing on areas outside of work can be a threat to our livelihoods and status. We fear that we will not be taken seriously, and to some extent, we are right to be concerned.
  It turns out that the vast majority of employers praise the trend towards being busy. Research has shown that people who brag about their work and hard work are seen as better employees, with more money and prestige, even when they don’t match the truth. In addition, in the eyes of others, these people even look more attractive.
  While it’s nice to have someone see you emailing at 8:30 p.m. on a Saturday night, it can also lead to an overall unhealthy and unhappy life. The time trap in workism is exacerbating your lack of time.