January 27, 2009
With layoffs looming, is busywork your friend?
The New York Times raised an interesting point on Friday: Although many employees at companies shedding staff like dead skin now find themselves saddled with two and three times the workload they once had, many others find themselves embracing the busywork they used to dread for lack of any other work on their plate.
As the New York Times writes: "...now, when business is verrry slow and the possibility of layoffs icily real, looking busy is no joke. In retail and real estate, restaurants and law offices, many workers are working hard to look necessary -- even when they don't have all that much to do."
According to the article, some retail workers now find themselves folding, folding, and then folding clothes some more, both to pass the endless expanse of time and to appear payroll-worthy should any higher-ups pop into the store. Lawyers call clients and long-lost classmates just to check in and see if they need legal advice on something, anything. Real estate agents catch up on several years of paperwork and dust their now-barren desks. And maitre d's dote on the handful of customers in their barely populated restaurants as though they were A-list celebrities.
Given yesterday's monumental nationwide layoff tally, it's not surprising that workers would do whatever it takes to look busy, even if it means pulling a George Costanza and soliciting a handful of friends to call them repeatedly with mock action items. But I have to agree with the management academics interviewed in the Times article: the real value in embracing busywork is the morale boost it gives you, no matter how fleeting.
If a company's not bringing in the business it needs, it doesn't matter how many sweaters you fold or how much housekeeping or outreach you do. The bottom line will still be the bottom line, and the numbers could catch up with you sooner or later. In the meantime, you might as well stave off some of that mind-numbing boredom and all-encompassing worry about if and when the axe might fall by inventing chores for yourself (and when nobody's looking, polishing up your resume).
As always, I'd like to hear what you think. If you're employed, what has the current economic sinkhole done to your workload? Are you drowning in it, or praying for a new stack of busywork to fall in your lap so you don't have to play another game of solitaire? Has busywork indeed become your lifeline at work, or is it still the same tedious chore it always was?
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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