Be honest! How many times a day do you hear or say the words “I’m busy”?

We are all guilty of it, and it has been common parlance for so long that we just don’t question it anymore.

Lately, I’ve been working on changing my own internal narrative, for two reasons:

  1. “I’m busy” does not offer any insights (to me or others) into my degree of busy-ness, and;
  2. “I’m busy” just somehow has a negative connotation to it, and there are some levels of busy-ness that we should celebrate, and others that we absolutely need to eradicate.

What level of busy are you?

Instead of thinking the thought – “Oh I’m busy” I’ve been consciously reframing it to “I’m being deliciously well utilised!”

I’m now starting to express this verbally when people ask me how my business is going. With a smile on my face, I respond “I’m being deliciously well utilised.” Because I am, and I’m obviously ecstatic about having an opportunity to spread my love far and wide. We also know, psychologically, that feeling well utilised at work and having a valuable purpose is good for us.

But on the flip side, I’m also very well aware that as a business owner I can choose when I work and how I work and that I get to set my own boundaries between deliciously well utilised and being distastefully overloaded.

So how does this play out in the workplace?

What should happen is that people feel safe in their environments to have an open and trustful conversation with their leader about their current capacity vs current demands, and rationalise or delegate activities accordingly.

I mean there are 40 hours in the working week (give or take depending on your EBA and your own choices and boundaries). Therefore, it stands to reason you can only reasonably be expected to manage 40 hours of tasks and relationships and leadership duties. Maybe you’re even taking your lunch breaks. This is being deliciously well utilised. Busy yes. But a good busy. Active. Actualised.

Instead, what is happening is that people are being given increasing amounts of work to do in those 40 hours. Unreasonable amounts that started as a little and – like the kilo creep – is now a lot.

And because we have good people, they’ll smile and keep trying to juggle the load.

They’ll sacrifice their breaks, work longer hours and be less mentally available when they’re home with their families. But all the while – internally they’re stressed and fighting off the inner voice that’s telling them it’s because they aren’t good enough, or organised enough, or resilient enough or experienced enough, that they can’t manage or get on top of things.

Never once considering it may be the environment that’s distastefully overloading them. These good people, over time, will either move on or break.

Think of it like the capacity of a dam. A dam can only hold so much water. We want the dam to be full. That means it is serving its purpose, and we truly value that precious water it gives us. So, we tend it and nurture it and look after it.

But a dam that is being distastefully overloaded – is being bombarded by constant heavy rain. Soon the water starts trickling over the edge, showing warning signs it’s not managing the load. If there is no intervention the dam walls will burst, flood the landscape and cause widespread chaos. All that valuable water will be lost, and it will take years to rebuild and replenish.

It’s a Leaders Role to Open the Flood Gates

Much like our dam, in the workplace leaders need to keep an eye on work levels and adjust as necessary to avoid overloading. There is significant risk in not doing so. All dams and people have a finite capacity. To avoid chaos, you will have to open the flood gates or find a way to ease the deluge.

The Risks of Ignoring Seepage

Leaders are also battling the deluge and often in the same boat (an accidental but superb pun) trying to manage upwards and rationalise tasks.

It’s a challenging status quo at present as there continues to be an expectation of doing more with less. Of continuing to ignore the trickle over the dam wall.

There is a huge risk in this.

If we make work overload a new cultural norm, we set an unhealthy precedent that will prevent us from having a sustainable, happy and productive workforce and culture.

We must challenge our internal dialogue and other’s expectations that being distastefully overloaded is just ‘part of the job’ or just ‘the way it is around here’.

We must challenge the stories we tell ourselves about leaders earning their stripes, or why they get “paid the big bucks” or why we must work longer than others.

With the increasing incidents of mental illness in society, increasing costs of lost productivity in the workplace due to mental ill-health, and skyrocketing psychological harm claims, the evidence is quite compelling that this mindset is no longer serving anyone well.

What steps will you take to stem the flow?

If you’d like more information on managing work overload risks in your workplace, please reach out for a chat.

You can also find extensive guidance material on preventing work-related stress on WorkSafe Victoria’s website

Keep Leading Positive Change.
Tan x

Tanya Heaney-Voogt

Director & Principal Consultant MBA, ICFACC, MAHRI, Dip Mgt, Dip Coaching, Prosci® Certified Change Practitioner E:

Recent Blogs

The Risks of Fundamental Attribution Error in the Workplace

When we witness poor behaviours at work, we can make assumptions that it is the individual’s personality or disposition that caused the behaviour rather than take into consideration the situational factors. The situational factors include: The environment around us...

The Hidden Costs of Workplace Incivility

Ten years ago, incivility expert, Christine Porath, wrote in the Harvard Business Review that “rudeness at work is rampant and it’s on the rise.” In her research which included polling thousands of workers about how they’re treated on the job, Porath stated 98% of...

Challenging Safely

Challenging Safely requires a positive intent and care in the delivery.   Challenger safety, the final and most complex stage in the 4 Stages of Psychological Safety Framework by Timothy R. Clark,  always assumes a positive intent and care in the delivery. When...

Common Causes of Workplace Conflict

Many of these causes of conflict are interrelated.  At the end of the descriptors, there’s a coaching tool to use on yourself, with your team or implement across the workplace to address relationship breakdowns, tension or conflict.Change Change can be a catalyst for...

Inclusion – Getting to the Heart of Safe and Effective Teams

According to the Diversity Council of Australia (DCA), ‘Inclusion occurs when a diversity of people feel valued and respected, have access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute their perspectives and talents to improve their organisation.’ There’s a...

Commit No Nuisance

Do you have a list of organisational values that sit buried deep in the basement somewhere?  Or values that are talked about a lot but quite clearly not lived and no one is held accountable for the behaviours that sit under each of those (even if they are clearly...

The dual benefits of scanning for R.O.T. in your team

R.O.T.  is an acronym of tech origin that stands for redundant, obsolete, or trivial.   Timothy R Clark, social scientist, researcher, and author tells us it's important to look for R.O.T. as 'everything we do eventually becomes obsolete'.   Clark talks about this...

It didn’t take long for Julie to realise something was truly amiss

Julie's Story - A Case Study Julie was a senior manager attending her first management team meeting in her new workplace. Twenty other managers were in the room, plus the executive members and the chief executive officer (CEO). What surprised Julie the most was the...

The most expensive words in business…

Want to know what the eight most expensive words in business are?   They might surprise you. I suspect you've heard them often, perhaps you've even uttered them yourself. They are:   "But we have always done it this way."It's a phrase guaranteed to get my...

What systems do you have in place for mitigating psychosocial hazards?

Psychosocial hazards are the things in the design, application and management of work that contribute to work-related stress.    Work-related stress in itself is not necessarily a problem. But when the stress is severe, prolonged or unmanaged, you increase the...