Podcast: Boring Job Burnout

The Busyness Paradox Episode #28: Boring Job Burnout

Feeling overworked and dreaming of a new job with lots of downtime? One where marathon solitaire sessions fill the time between naps and happy hours? Careful what you wish for…making 10 hours of work fill a 40-hour week ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.  If your employer is infected with the busyness bug, you’re likely to experience the delightfully paradoxical form of burnout that occurs when you’re actually underworked but everyone around you is pretending to be overworked. Tune in as we try to unpeel the paradoxical onion of boring job burnout in this episode of The Busyness Paradox. 

Links to stuff mentioned in the show:

Episode Transcript:

Frank Butler 0:17
Hello Busybodies. Welcome to another episode of the Busyness Paradox. I’m Frank Butler here with Paul Harvey.

Paul Harvey 0:24
Good day.

Frank Butler 0:25
What are we talking about? On today’s episode, Paul?

Paul Harvey 0:27
Nothing. Again.

Frank Butler 0:29
Nothing. Again. Wait. So I’m good here I can go, huh? Different kinds of nothing shy, go watch the coffee brew, practice my art of Niksen.

Paul Harvey 0:42
Normally, I’d say yes, as we discussed in our previous episode on niksen. However, this is a different kind of nothing. This is the bad kind of nothing.

Frank Butler 0:52
Bad nothing. Is there such a thing?

Paul Harvey 0:53
There is such a thing. And I’ve experienced it. I think we both have when you’re at a job, and you’re supposed to be doing something, but you have nothing to do. People always complain about like, oh, the older you get, time goes by faster and faster. Go get yourself a job where you’re supposed to be like, busy. We’re supposed to look busy, but you have nothing to do. Time will go so slow. I honestly think you can watch a clock go backwards if you try hard enough. Which might be a form of niksen, never thought of that.

Frank Butler 1:25
That does some kind of niksen-esque, doesn’t it? And I don’t mean Nixon like the President Nixon. This is N-I-K-S-E-N.

Paul Harvey 1:33
I was just about to say that. Anyone who hasn’t heard that episode is like, “What are you two on about?”

Frank Butler 1:37
Listen to our niksen episode.

Paul Harvey 1:38
Yes

Frank Butler 1:39
You’re gonna love it.

Paul Harvey 1:39
The Dutch word niksen.

Frank Butler 1:40
That’s right. Yeah, I mean, I recall being in one particular job in which we literally could do nothing, right. And that’s certainly problematic in its own right. But there is something that’s good, nothing versus bad nothing, right? And good nothing is really the art of trying to find that inner self-reflection or moment to kind of let your mind decompressing and just rest.

Paul Harvey 2:04
Carving out some time to let your mind rests

Frank Butler 2:06
That mind resting bit. But then there’s that idea of nothing in which you are literally bored to tears, or death, or whatever. Right?

Paul Harvey 2:16
Yes.

Frank Butler 2:17
And in certain parts of the world, like France, you can even sue your employer for being that darn bored.

Paul Harvey 2:23
Yep. You know, everyone talks about the US being this super-litigious country where everyone sues everyone for anything. And I mean, there’s some legitimacy to that there is. But yeah, this one in France really raises the bar, I would say. What was his name? Frédéric Desnard, I believe

Frank Butler 2:42
Frédéric Desnard, yes.

Paul Harvey 2:44
Worked for a perfume distillery, sued his employer for not giving him enough to do, making him so bored that he developed depression, and some other bad stuff. I don’t remember.

Frank Butler 2:55
And he considered suicide if I recall, like, it was actually that bad. But he was, like, ashamed for not being able to do any work. Right.

Paul Harvey 3:02
Ashamed, yeah.

Frank Butler 3:04
Yeah, he was ashamed. That’s an interesting thing, right.

Paul Harvey 3:07
And I can relate a little to that, you know, my bad “doing nothing” job experience, long time ago, that was sort of a paradoxical aspect of it, because the the go to response to someone having this issue, is “oh go talk to your boss and tell them you need more to do.” But yeah, there was like a shame element to it where…for reasons I can’t even quite describe…and, but I don’t think I was the only one who felt this way. I just was very uncomfortable doing that, like to divulge that I have nothing to do and have had nothing to do for some amount of time was somehow embarrassing. I don’t know why.

Frank Butler 3:43
Yeah. You know, I think there’s got to be several layers to it. One is maybe that self-confidence end of it. Like I could see myself questioning, “Am I doing something wrong?” Right, that would be my first instinct, in this scenario is like, “Oh, should I should I be doing something? Am I missing something?”

Paul Harvey 4:02
Am I missing something

Frank Butler 4:03
Yeah.

Paul Harvey 4:04
Yeah, definitely have experienced that. Like, “What’s everyone doing?”‘ Like, “Why? How come I’m so not busy right now?” And everyone else seems to be. Yeah.

Frank Butler 4:13
You know, I still remember this. This was my first big boy job interview out of college. And I’m in the interview. And one of the things is that they gave you an assignment where you had to sit in front of the computer with an Excel file, and identify the errors in the Excel file. I mean, it wasn’t anything crazy, right? And they’re like, we’re going to be back in 30 minutes. I was like, “Okay.” And after five minutes, I’m like, is this right? If I find all the errors, and I’m sitting there, literally, like freaking out, right, going, did I do this, right? And so I go back and I check the file again. And yet, I was like,

Paul Harvey 4:49
You start seeing errors that aren’t there. Yeah.

Frank Butler 4:54
And then I’m only 10 minutes in and I still have 20 more minutes to wait. So I eventually go “Do I just get up and find them? Or what do I do here?”

Paul Harvey 5:03
That’s actually a really good example of this that…I was kind of struggling to come up with a easily digestible example of how this happens. Maybe not everyone’s had that exact experience. But I think everyone can kind of relate to that, like you’re given X amount of time, you only needed a fraction of that, or do I do with the rest of that time?

Frank Butler 5:20
What do you do with it? And you know, I will say, I was stressing out because I really needed a job. That was post September 11. In the IT industry. It wasn’t good, right? That it bubble had burst. I was really stressing to find this job. And this was an important interview to me. And I waited 15 minutes, I was like, I think I’m just going to find them. And so I went to the conference room, they’re like, Oh, are you finished already? And I was like, I believe so. You know, of course, I’m sweating bullets at this point, because I’m freaking out. And they come and they check my work. And they’re like, oh, yeah, you did that really fast.

Paul Harvey 5:55
I think a lot of times, that’s what it ends up coming down to is you need less time than someone else thinks you need or needed themselves. Or in my experience, what a lot of it was was people taking small jobs, and stretching them out, basically injecting them full of busywork. So they’re seemed really busy all the time. But really, they were doing something that could be done in a matter of maybe an hour and stretching it out to an entire day to look busy, which is absurd. And the premise of this entire podcast, they shouldn’t do that.

Frank Butler 6:31
Well, I think on top of that, too, there’s got to be some of that element of just productivity gains, you know, I was coming out, I was already well versed in Excel, for example. And it was easy for me to identify the issue, whereas for others is a little different, right? I mean, the some of the people they might have been interviewing might not have been as comfortable with Excel as I was, at that point of time. And so that might have helped. And I think it also helped contribute to me getting the offer on the job

Paul Harvey 6:59
I’d imagine so. Now, I think that is an example where it really does make sense to approach your supervisor and say, you know, “Job’s done. Now what?”

Frank Butler 7:07
Right. No, and I guess that was, that was small time to write. I mean, we’re talking about 30 minutes, I’m done in technically five, I sat there for another 10 in essence, trying to make sure I didn’t miss anything. And also just trying to make sure I wasn’t like, overly you know, there’s there’s also the other end of it, right? You didn’t want to come across as being like, Okay, I’m done. You know, it’s been five minutes, and it come across as like

Paul Harvey 7:28
Some cocky, like

Frank Butler 7:29
Yeah, right? Yeah. Yes, I double check my work, I triple checked my work. And then I stressed about something in the assignment you guys gave me?

Paul Harvey 7:40
It would have been real embarrassing if you went in after five minutes, and you missed something.

Frank Butler 7:45
That would have been brutal, right? But you start expanding upon this in time, right? You start making it an eight hour day, and you took 30 minutes to get something done, or you’re talking about a project that they give you a week to do and you got to done in four hours.

Paul Harvey 8:00
Right. And these aren’t like exaggerated numbers. I mean, this was my experience, like “Hopefully, you know, by Friday, five o’clock, you know, you might need to stay a little late. I don’t know.” Like, actually, it’s Tuesday morning, and I think it’s done. And some of that will be

Frank Butler 8:16
locked up

Paul Harvey 8:17
Because like, “Oh, well, the person who’s in this position before you always took a week to do that specific task so I assumed you would too.” I’m like, “I don’t know what that person was doing but uh…”

Frank Butler 8:26
What’s even worse if that person’s now the manager.

Paul Harvey 8:31
Haha, oh that’s a whole twist there isn’t it.

Frank Butler 8:36
And then think about it from that perspective. Maybe the person, it only took that person a few hours to do, and they twiddle their thumbs for a week too.

Paul Harvey 8:42
Yeah…

Frank Butler 8:43
So they know. They know. They’re onto you

Paul Harvey 8:44
That’s where the twist comes in. What do you do in that case?

Frank Butler 8:52
Oh, that’s frightening. Isn’t it

Paul Harvey 8:54
It is., it’s terrifying. This should be our Halloween episode. Oof.

Frank Butler 8:59
Well, you know, we also had that same thing, too. And when I was working for BearingPoint, we were working for it was the BellSouth/Cingular merger. And we were in the Cingular headquarters in Alpharetta, Georgia. And we were relegated to a conference room. And we had to sit there for basically eight hours a day, you know, 30 minute lunch break. You couldn’t just be up and moving around. You couldn’t just like wander around because we have nothing to do. We we did our initial planning stuff. I mean, the first two weeks, we were busy. And then there were some contract negotiations that were still going on or something to that or some integration things that were going on. And we ended up sitting there and couldn’t do anything. We couldn’t use the internet for fun. I mean, there was like, you have to be in at eight, can’t leave till five and you get a 30 minute lunch break. And that’s it because they’re paying us by the hour basically. Right? I mean, that was what Cingular was doing.

Paul Harvey 9:54
That’s horrendous. I mean, the one saving grace there is at least you had a “we” like you weren’t

Frank Butler 10:00
Yes,

Paul Harvey 10:00
If it was just you by yourself, I think that’s almost solitary, was that called, solitary confinement at that point. Yeah.

Frank Butler 10:07
Yeah, my team, we just sat there and I got one of those little external, those 3g at that point it was a hotspot. Right. And we had, we will run our work laptops, because even though we had Cingular issued desktops, yeah, we also had our BearingPoint issued laptops. And so we would do our required trainings that we had to do, which we were supposed to do, like 80 hours of training every two years. You know, my group managed to knock it out in a couple of weeks. Of course, I got in trouble for that. But you know Of course

Paul Harvey 10:37
How dare you?

Frank Butler 10:38
How dare I leap ahead, and, you know, prep my people

Paul Harvey 10:41
Technology is, in some ways, giving us some hope in these situations. My experience, so this was early 2000s so the internet obviously existed then but we dealt with a lot of government contracts and stuff. And it was…our internet access was pretty locked down, you go to like cnn.com. And that was about it. And this was just before there was smartphones, or tablets or anything. And I suppose those hotspot, things maybe did exist. But you know, if, if you’re working through these machinations, you’ve already got a bit of a problem. You shouldn’t. It’s a job for crying out loud. You shouldn’t be scheming and conniving to not be so bored that you jump out a window. sue the employer for making you want to jump out a window. How much why did that guy get by the way back to our friend in France?

Frank Butler 11:29
He only got 50,000 Euro, he sued for 360,000 euro and ended up with 50,000. Which, you know, the fact he ended up with anything is surprising.

Paul Harvey 11:40
Shocking. Funny, this article that we’re looking at about that case, says Desnard could not make the company realize how bored he was. That’s interesting.

Frank Butler 11:54
I mean, that’s the thing, right? Yeah, guys, I’m bored.

Paul Harvey 11:57
No you’re not

Frank Butler 11:58
No, I really am. Yeah. Hmm. Yeah, you know, geez, I get the idea of being bored. You get this frustration of like, why are we even here. But there is a point where it’s like, Oh, my God, I am wanting to beat my head against the wall I’m so bored. And you can’t even fill your day with enough fake busyness or busywork or any of that stuff to make it worthwhile.

Paul Harvey 12:24
And that’s honestly, I felt that like, dammit, like, I cannot even come up with enough fake busy work to keep myself looking occupied. And that’s the thing. It’s like, if you’re not your own office, or something, or you know, these days working from home, it’s a different situation, I think. But if you’re, you know, in a cubicle environment, or, you know, God help us one of these open office plan things where everyone kind of sees everybody

Frank Butler 12:46
Oh God. Yeah, those are the worst.

Paul Harvey 12:47
You don’t want to look…you kind of don’t want to let on that you have nothing to do Sometimes. Sometimes you’re like, “Hey, I’m bored. Someone Throw me a bone here.” But yeah, I don’t know. There’s like, everyone else around us all kind of cranking away or seems to be cranking away. You just kind of feel like oh, maybe I’m not as valuable to company like, am I useless here? Where, the irony being that maybe you’re just the one who’s actually doing useful stuff efficiently.

Frank Butler 13:13
Yeah, it’s like, too good. Right? We had an episode on that. But

Paul Harvey 13:15
Yeah

Frank Butler 13:15
You’re too good at your job. Yeah, that same idea. And then we talked about the whole Uberization of your organization, right? You’ve got talent that you’ve hired, and you want those people working for you, but they just don’t have anything to do necessarily, or they’re, they’re able to get their job done quickly. Keep incentivizing right,

Paul Harvey 13:31
They’ve got slack resources.

Frank Butler 13:32
And this is exactly what that is.

Paul Harvey 13:34
Slack resources in the form of time.

Frank Butler 13:35
Yep.

Paul Harvey 13:36
But also, maybe they know how to do some other stuff that’s outside their job description. But it’s still helpful. Maybe they can help debug a script or something, like, that someone else in some other department is working on.

Frank Butler 13:46
Sure.

Paul Harvey 13:47
Who knows?

Frank Butler 13:47
Who knows? I mean, that’s just it, right? That’s why I think that if you’re a manager, being very cognizant of this possibility that people are not getting their day filled out with meaningful activities, and things that actually helped them with their job progression, their career project progressions, and their work satisfaction, you might want to reconsider that, that work environment, and instead of berating them or deciding to lay this person off, because they don’t have enough work, started thinking about, what is it that we can do to make you have a better experience that’s going to help not only you, but the company as a whole. So what can we do to get you engaged even more with the organization, because clearly, you’re productive? Clearly, you can get stuff done, we hired you in the first place, which means that we vetted you and validated that we want you. So how do we maximize that relationship with that employee, let’s be flexible, those kinds of things. Let’s help encourage that. But let’s help it so the company gets better too.

Paul Harvey 14:43
I think that’s part of the unspoken weirdness of the whole thing is that there’s a tendency to just kind of view it as the employee’s fault or like, like you’ve done something wrong, because you have nothing to do

Frank Butler 14:54
Yeah, yeah

Paul Harvey 14:54
And that’s, that’s what I always felt like I felt this pressure to not let on that I had nothing to do because it might make me look bad. Again, ridiculous because I had nothing to do because I did all the stuff I was supposed to do. Which kind of gets into a bigger, esoteric question of, well, if you’re hired to do a job and you’re paid a salary to do that job, and you did that job by noon on Tuesday, why…just speaking abstractly here, why do you have to fill out the rest of the week, if you’ve done what you were hired to do, unless you’re contracted to be physically on the job for 40 hours a week. Most of the salary jobs I’ve had, to varying degrees, weren’t that explicit, like, you must be here for 40 hours a week. It’s kind of hinted in the way the jobs were. You could certainly stay longer than 40 hours a week, there’s no problem there. So you know, why not? Got a light week, go home early. I know it’s not an ideal solution, and certainly not one that comes naturally to most organizations. But, you know, just kind of as a thought exercise, if you’re hired to do something, and you did that thing, like you’re hired to mow someone’s lawn, and you finish mowing the lawn, but you’ve only been there an hour, you wouldn’t feel pressure to, like, mow the lawn again, or something, you know?

Frank Butler 16:05
Right, you’re paid by the job, right, that job is done, you get to move on.

Paul Harvey 16:09
So this Uberization thing, I think, bridges the two realities there. Okay, so you are expected to sit at your desk or whatever for 40 hours a week; at least you can be doing something with that other time that’s beneficial to both you and the employer.

Frank Butler 16:22
Yeah. And, you know, I think the other case, too, is that a company should be okay, that if you didn’t want to do the Uberization aspect of it, that you can just go home?

Paul Harvey 16:31
Yes

Frank Butler 16:31
As well, right?

Paul Harvey 16:32
Right.

Frank Butler 16:33
I do think, you know, one of the challenges of if you’re done at Tuesday at noon, do you let them just have the rest of the week off? That’s a very interesting question to ask, right? Because what happens if some, you know, the poo hits the fan or something? You need all hands on deck? Well, I mean, in my context, I would just say, Hey, call them up and say, Hey, can you come in? We’re gonna need to do a meeting.

Paul Harvey 16:53
So you’re like on call

Frank Butler 16:54
Take care of this. Right? You kind of like on call, but not really. It’s a, you shouldn’t be going on vacation.

Paul Harvey 16:59
Right

Frank Butler 17:00
Telling them that you’re going on vacation. But especially if you’re done with your work, you can go home, but there’s probably a call component, during it, being on call. I like that idea, right? It’s like, oh, no, you can go do whatever. You just don’t go and fly to a foreign country or be further than, you know

Paul Harvey 17:16
Yeah

Frank Butler 17:16
An hour away, or something just in case, right?

Paul Harvey 17:19
The rubber hitting the road on that, I think there’d be a lot of challenges. Instead of incentivizing people to stretch out a task to fill time, you’re kind of having the opposite effect, where it’s like, Ooh, the faster I’m done the faster I get to go home.” And we all know where that road leads, you know, slipshod stuff, and no one’s helping each other out. So we’re not exactly saying that that’s the solution here. But you know, something that moves in that direction a little bit, gets us away from this idea that we’re chained to a desk for 40 or 60, or whatever hours a week, it opens up a lot of different possibilities.

Frank Butler 17:52
Right, and I think you’re spot on that. If everybody’s like, “Oh, I get to go home after I’m done.” Yeah, you’re right. There could be things that are missed or what have you. And we don’t want that outcome.

Paul Harvey 18:03
Right.

Frank Butler 18:03
So it’s that, how do we get to a point where we can monitor and assess the quality of the output as we keep saying,

Paul Harvey 18:10
Hmm

Frank Butler 18:10
But then also kind of reward for not wasting time in the day doing things that don’t need to be done, and you know, that are going to affect you negatively, right. So we keep employee morale high. Now, one piece of advice that often comes up and stuff like this is Oh, go talk to your boss. If you do get along really, really well with your boss. Okay, yeah, maybe, but I don’t you know, I’m kind of like, Paul, you know, I get a little concerned about if I’m not feeling like I’m doing enough. And then I told my boss, even though if we get along really well, hey, man, I feel like I’m just been twiddle my thumbs all the time. I don’t feel like that might be the right approach. Because I feel like, hey, that’s basically saying my job could be maybe integrated into somebody else’s job, there’s gonna be a different way of approaching that. And maybe the approach is, if you want to move up in some way, like you’re just motivated to get more done, maybe it is going to my boss and saying, “Hey, look, there are some assignments I get done pretty quickly. But I want to always be contributing to the company and I want to grow. So what are some things that I can do?” and not say that you have, like all this massive downtime, but just be more along lines of what else can I do to help contribute?

Paul Harvey 19:18
I’ve literally spent 80% of the last month staring at my feet. How can we resolve that?

Frank Butler 19:25
Or trying to play solitaire on the computer and then just running out going…getting bored of playing solitaire on the computer. Right.

Paul Harvey 19:32
With the screen light dimmed till it’s almost invisible. So other people walking by your cubicle don’t see that you’re playing solitaire or something.

Frank Butler 19:39
Well, I can see there’s so so many things that can manifest from this whole thing, right? It’s like some people, they would…the vices will start taking over. It’s like, oh, you know, I’m trying to fill this in with some sort of, I don’t know shopping right? So then you’d shop too much on Amazon or Oh, you get into a hobby that you get too deep into the wrong way. And next thing you know, you find you’re not benefiting from that. downtime in an effective way. Right?

Paul Harvey 20:01
Becomes a distraction. Yeah.

Frank Butler 20:03
Now you got a new disorder and therapies now

Paul Harvey 20:08
Which you should sue your employer for causing.

Frank Butler 20:12
My employer caused me to have a shopping addiction. They didn’t give me enough work. I mean…so yeah, I mean, that’s one way, I think something that it only takes so much time, but is worth certainly diving into is finding things that help you develop your skill sets, right? Where are you weak at? Where do you think you can get better? How can you make yourself even more efficient down the road, you know, you could find free tutorials on how to use Excel and really maximize your understanding of Excel. This is something that Paul and I talked about beforehand. And you know, what it can help you automate some of the processes that you’re doing. But also it gives you this added layer of skills. So you can do more interesting things that could potentially then contribute your code or, for example, learn new code, you know, a new language, a programming language.

Paul Harvey 21:02
If the situation allows for I think this is the ideal solution: you’re sure that you’re not missing anything, and you know, you legitimately are getting your job done with a lot of time to spare, to the extent you can use that time for self improvement. You know, there’s all kinds of these field guides and things for different, like Frank said, different software applications, whatever the case may be. I would argue that it doesn’t necessarily have to be completely job related. I mean, if it is great, but again, you know, coming from the perspective that you’ve done the work you’re paid to do, I think just developing skills that are universally applicable, like, like you said, coding language, or, like automation skills, or, you know, whatever your profession might be, just kind of bettering yourself in terms of things that are even just tangentially related. Things that would basically make you more employable, more valuable. I think in the long run, that’s gonna help the situation solve itself. You’re just gonna know how to do more stuff. And that’s gonna lead to good things.

Frank Butler 22:08
There’s some of those like, free courses that you can take, like Stanford or something like that, or Princeton, I can’t remember which school yeah, you know, you could do something like that and get, even though you’re not going to get a degree or anything or a certificate, you certainly will get, you know, additional knowledge and skills, I mean, things that help you develop as a leader or as a manager, or whatever it is that you feel like you want to be doing in your future, right, if you want to go, if you want to eventually become self employed in some way, right? Develop skills and understanding what it’s going to take to start that business, work on

Paul Harvey 22:37
There you go

Frank Butler 22:37
But that’s also helping you contribute to your current organizational setting, right, understanding how to start a business means that you can understand business better, and the different facets of the different functional areas, right. So we’re going to finance skills, work on your customer service skills, you know, so there’s different ways you can approach this.

Paul Harvey 22:54
I think you’ve…I’m ashamed I didn’t think of that myself, but that the free online courses, I think is, like, renaissance. I’ve just pulled up free online courses from Harvard University here. Take some Harvard courses if you want. There’s “Web Programming with Python and JavaScript”, “Non-Profit Financial Stewardship”, and…”Jon Snow and the Cholera Epidemic of 1854″. You know, I mean whatever. “Case studies in Functional Genomics”, you know, whatever your thing might be, there’s a, there’s good stuff that you can be doing. And you’re still, if it matters, you know, you’re still sitting at your desk, working away at stuff, you just happen to be doing something that’s for you.

Frank Butler 23:40
And I think you probably can tie a lot of that, a lot of that back to your, your job, right? If somebody goes what you actually doing, I bet you could easily say, “Hey, I’m working on my ability to understand this concept more, I’m taking this class work, and it’s going to help me with my reports, or my tasks, or whatever it is that I have to get done.”

Paul Harvey 24:00
Right

Frank Butler 24:01
Or just even being able to think about the environment in which we’re operating and what is going on for our products, services, customers, whatever it is that your role is

Paul Harvey 24:10
You can probably tie almost anything back to any job if you’re really creative, but still looking at this Harvard website of free courses, “Improving your Business Through a Culture of Health.” I don’t care what your job is, you can make that relevant to your job, somehow.

Frank Butler 24:25
Somehow.

Paul Harvey 24:26
“Becoming a More Resilient Leader in Turbulent Times.” Whatever it is you’re doing, even if you’re not in a leadership position, there’s something in there that’s relevant, I guarantee it, to any job. So yeah, I think we’ve cracked the code on this, Frank. Take yourself some free online courses, if your job is one that allows you to do that. You know, if you’re like a shop foreman in a manufacturing plant, that might be more difficult. But I also think in those types of jobs, you’re much less likely to find yourself in the situation that we’re talking about. It really seems to be the knowledge work/desk job type of things where this phenomenon occurs.

Frank Butler 24:57
Yeah, I think that’s very true. I think there’s also another element in here too. Looking around and just kind of keeping your eyes and ears open as to what’s driving incentives in your workplace and thinking about what are those people doing? Can I use that free time to maybe do something similar and get that same type of recognition? Right? You know, there’s some cases that organizations are going to reward for these kind of organizational citizenship behaviors, these going above and beyond your normal job duties to help others out or to whatever it is right, just things that help the organization and others in the organization out

Paul Harvey 25:32
Yeah, you got to kind of read the room with that kind of stuff. There is a risk, you know, that you just become the dumping ground for everybody is spillover work. And you know, no one wants that. But if you do it, right, this is a good way to learn more stuff, because you’re helping helping other people with their work. And just to become known as someone who’s good to have around, generally a good thing.

Frank Butler 25:55
That’s generally a good thing. Again, organizational dependent and don’t let yourself become the the front door rug, right, that welcome that. I think something really important to understand during this, try to avoid filling your time with busywork.

Paul Harvey 26:10
Yes, if nothing else…if nothing in this whole episode applies to you, just please don’t fall into that temptation to fill your time with busywork. You help no one, you’re doing yourself no favors, your employer no favors.

Frank Butler 26:23
And you know that…the whole thing about taking free online courses, those kinds of things. That’s not busywork, right? That’s self improvement. That’s putting it in a bucket of how can I make myself better. So I can make myself more marketable, all around, improve me and figure out what I really want to do. Because in some cases, a lot of people aren’t really sure what it is that they want to be doing with their lives, even in a job, right? It’s like, I’m not happy with what I’m doing here. But going out and doing these kinds of things might help you identify something that you will connect well with

Paul Harvey 26:55
Oh, absolutely. There’s always something to be gained, I think, from broadening your…broadening your horizons and learning new stuff. Where that is completely not the case: there’s nothing to be gained by endless busywork. And as we discussed in past episodes, busywork begets busywork. In my experience, you’d often see people, you get a bunch of numbers from different departments subunits and put them together, crunching numbers and send them off to the next person. Endlessly triple-checking every single number that comes to you, maybe double-checking would have been sufficient? It’s not just you, basically, wasting time but often involves wasting other people’s time too, because you’re

Frank Butler 27:34
Right

Paul Harvey 27:34
Chasing people down and saying, let’s just check these numbers again, now you’re taking them away from something they need to be doing. There’s this ripple effect of you do busywork, it creates busywork for other people, and it’s a big mess. Fight the temptation, don’t rely on busywork to make the time go faster.

Frank Butler 27:50
And that’s a common thing people are going to try to do so.

Paul Harvey 27:53
Yeah

Frank Butler 27:54
Definitely

Paul Harvey 27:54
I’ve done it myself.

Frank Butler 27:55
Yeah, I think we all have I think we’re all guilty of it.

Paul Harvey 27:57
Instead, practice niksen

Frank Butler 28:00
Niksen Yep. Use it to help you with your mental health, or to help you get that rest of the mind.

Paul Harvey 28:06
Yeah lean into it. Just

Frank Butler 28:08
Yeah,

Paul Harvey 28:08
If you’re gonna stare at the wall, stare at the wall! Make a count for something.

Frank Butler 28:14
You know, it’s about it’s about giving your mind that that break and that rest. I think ultimately, it’ll help you be more productive, but also help you with the creativity, maybe even help you identify things that you want to be doing instead of nothing. And where you should be going with things. Now, if you’re in a work from home environment. No, again, we encourage the self improvement aspect of things. But you could also use it as a time to get a hobby.

Paul Harvey 28:36
Yeah, I think working from home, makes a lot of this problem go away, or at least as a potential tool, because you don’t have that pressure to look busy. You don’t have the hesitancy to engage in things that might be useful. But that might not seem that way to a pastor by saying what are you doing over there? You watching YouTube videos? What’s going on there? Yeah, my favorite thing about this pandemic is that I think working from home will be more of a thing in the future. And that in turn will help with this. Bad nothing. Problem going away.

Frank Butler 29:09
Yep, I agree. And then lastly, in the work from home, get a second job, side hustle, the side hustle. We’ve addressed that too, in an episode. So

Paul Harvey 29:21
Yes. We will link to that episode as well. Yes. If all else fails, you know, get yourself a side hustle. Maybe listen to the episode before you do.

Frank Butler 29:31
Yes. Yes. There’s some caveats in there that we do talk about?

Paul Harvey 29:35
A few.

Frank Butler 29:36
Because it’s not for the faint of heart. But

Paul Harvey 29:39
Day trading, you know…

Frank Butler 29:40
Yeah, day trading,

Paul Harvey 29:41
Not for the faint of heart.

Frank Butler 29:42
I mean, there’s just a lot of things you can do.

Paul Harvey 29:44
There’s a lot of things you can be doing. And I think we limit ourselves because we…what do we call it…bounded rationality in our world.

Frank Butler 29:50
Yes.

Paul Harvey 29:50
We don’t consider these other possibilities as being possibilities, but oftentimes they are.

Frank Butler 29:56
That’s very true. Now on the manager side, we touched on it little bit, one of the things that seems to often happen is that you get done with something early, and then they’re blaming you for it right? If you’re a manager, don’t make that your culture of your team, or your company, if you’re the senior leader, try to encourage and embrace people doing good work. Not everybody works at the same speed or same rate. Certain things can be done faster than others.

Paul Harvey 30:19
Judge the output. Yeah. Not the busyness. As we always say.

Frank Butler 30:23
Judge the output, but then, you know, if this is something that you’re seeing, let’s figure out how can we help our employees grow? Or let him go home? You know, we’ve talked about this already a little bit, set it up where they can go home and run errands. Or, honestly, if people are getting done early, just switch to a four day workweek. And, you know, the challenges. They’re just trying to figure out. You know, obviously, you want to be open Monday through Friday in lot of businesses.

Paul Harvey 30:47
We did an episode on this, too. So

Frank Butler 30:48
Yes

Paul Harvey 30:49
We discuss a lot of those challenges that come with the four day workweek, because Spain, kind of beat Belgium to the punch on this few months back. But yeah, that was one of the bigger challenges was, Well, if your customers expect you to be available during certain hours, how do you merge that into the notion of a four day workweek? Right? It can be done, dammit.

Frank Butler 31:11
But I think this applies anywhere. I mean, I know that anywhere you are, I think at least give people the ability to hybrid work, right? So hey, you’re done, you know, on a on a Tuesday, work from home Wednesday through Friday, knowing full well that really what you’re expected to do is answer emails in a reasonable timeframe or answer calls from customers or what have you. If that’s something that they’re going to be involved with?

Paul Harvey 31:35
Well said

Frank Butler 31:36
Anyway. It’ll improve your worker satisfaction, make them happier in the job, hopefully increase their morale? Keep them around longer, right?

Paul Harvey 31:45
Yeah, bored employees are going to leave.

Frank Butler 31:48
Yep, bored employees will leave

Paul Harvey 31:49
Or sue you, apparently.

Frank Butler 31:51
And they’re underutilized. Or sued, ha. Yeah. You just don’t want to completely go, Okay, well, you know, you’re done. go off and do your thing. I think you want to find ways of continually helping your employees grow in that process. So they feel like they’re getting more than just, you know, getting a job done, and then out, unless that’s what they want. I think this is one of those things that this pandemic also allows you to do is align with what the employer is looking to get out of it. Some people really do want to just work enough to make the money and they want to go home and play video games the rest of the time. Is there anything wrong with that? No.

Paul Harvey 32:27
Unless they’re rushing through the work, to get home and play video games faster, yeah.

Frank Butler 32:32
No, if they’re doing their job, and they’re doing a good job, you know, whatever they do on their own time,

Paul Harvey 32:36
Let it be their own time.

Frank Butler 32:37
Yeah, let them do it. Right. Yeah.

Paul Harvey 32:40
On that sort of idea. I’ve often heard of companies claiming to do this but my understanding is it never really pans out, of sort of banking hours. So if you have a busy week, and you’re, you’re knocking it out for 60 hours, 70 hours, then you can kind of take some of those hours back in a future week. Again, easier said than done. If nothing else, very hard to keep track of that. I’m not saying you know, record the number of hours and give those number of hours back. But just to kind of have that mentality of, you know, last couple of weeks you were working way more than 40 hours or whatever. So, yeah, this week, if you need to do something, need to leave early someday, go ahead. Like that kind of thing, which many managers do that informally, but to sort of make that bigger piece of your culture.

Frank Butler 33:33
Yeah, I think that’s a really interesting thing, too. Because I mean, there are some occasions where it makes sense that you’ve got to have all hands on deck, and you’re just going pedal to the metal for a week or two. When we ramp up and we gotta go, we gotta go. But in, in those in-between phases, you create some structure in there, but most of its them being able to do whatever it is they need to during that time. And you probably want to just have some, you know, meetings in between and such, just to keep, you know, people apprised of what’s going on and status checks and –

Paul Harvey 34:04
Slippery slope Frank

Frank Butler 34:06
Yeah.

Paul Harvey 34:06
Meetings…you start filling up the the empty time with meetings, and oh boy.

Frank Butler 34:10
Yeah,

Paul Harvey 34:10
I see what you’re saying yeah, you’re right.

Frank Butler 34:12
You know, you gotta have some structure in between the lack of structure, you know, in meetings are not the ideal thing. But I think if anything, you want at least debrief as to what happened last week, what do we have upcoming? What are our expectations? And then go from that, right, I do believe in the power of the weekly meeting.

Paul Harvey 34:30
Well, that’s a good point. And some of this boring downtime, it may just be that you as a manager could be engaging with those employees more, that part of the reason that they don’t have any work to do is because they’re just not plugged into what’s going on. And there might be things that they would enjoy taking part in and getting involved with this project or that project, but they’re just out of the loop. So yeah, that sort of weekly check-in I think, could help with a lot of these things.

Frank Butler 34:55
What happened last week

Paul Harvey 34:57
Where we at

Frank Butler 34:57
And what…where are we going and then what what have we learned in that process? Right, so that we can all grow together? It’s like, Hey, what are the sorts of things that we’ve been challenged with? And that way everybody is understanding what’s coming up for them? Right? What do they need to expect? What needs to be done? Right? What’s the job to be done? And again, it’s like, as long as we’re hitting these milestones, and we’re getting done, what we need to get done about it, you know, have a good time.

Paul Harvey 35:23
And yeah, I think it’s fair to say, I hadn’t really thought of this until just now that you were mentioning that stuff. This is probably a big company problem, for the most part. A big organization problem, governments, large companies, I think in a small company with like, 10 total employees, you’re probably not running into this sort of issue that people are getting falling between the cracks and bored out of their minds. You know, it’s, it’s when you get really big, complex organizational hierarchies that I think this kind of thing happens.

Frank Butler 35:53
I think, actually, with smaller companies, the bigger challenge tends to be they’re not getting an understanding of what the company is trying to do like what they you know, because usually, it’s an owner founder running that kind of business. Right? Hmm. I think there’s a lack of understanding what the strategy is what the company is trying to achieve, what its goals are, what it’s, you know, what it’s trying to do for its customers, like, what are the expectations? I think this is the key that you can leverage those kinds of things to help company culture, right. It’s like, oh, you know, “Sally…I got praise from a customer for what Sally did to help him out.” You use that as an opportunity to share those stories, because you can set the path of what the culture is supposed to be. It’s, it’s a way to set culture, but also to get people on board understanding what is it that we’re really trying to do? Because there’s a lot of times people get jobs in small companies. And you know, that’s great, but you’re just kind of like, not sure where you’re supposed to be going in general.

Paul Harvey 36:45
That’s true. Because there’s less structure usually. Yeah.

Frank Butler 36:48
Right.

Paul Harvey 36:48
Right.

Frank Butler 36:49
I mean, I know with my first job out of out of school, I mean, I loved working for those guys. It was great. It was a really, I would say, loose culture, not a lot of stress. But you know, honestly, I had no idea what we’re trying to do at the end of the day as a company, like, what is it that we were trying to do? The two owners of the company, were happy with what was going on? Because I think they were making enough money to take care of themselves and take care of their families, you know, blah, blah, blah, but what am I missing here? You know, what am I supposed to be doing to help contribute? Because I was thinking, you know, at that time, I was really focused on this human interface design stuff that was coming out of Apple and like, how can I improve the software and make it a lot more understandable? They’re all like yeah we agree and

Paul Harvey 37:31
You’re looking to grow

Frank Butler 37:33
Yeah.

Paul Harvey 37:33
And they’re looking to just pay the bills.

Frank Butler 37:35
They’re like, we agree, but whatever, you know, they didn’t implement it. It wasn’t you know, I was like, Oh, okay. So that’s something obviously they’re not as concerned about because people are buying the software, they like it. It’s just, eh, anyway, so

Paul Harvey 37:49
Pros and cons to big and small companies. Yeah.

Frank Butler 37:52
I still think the power of the weekly meeting’s important, it’s just that the meetings got to be different depending on the size of the organization and where you are in the hierarchy then to

Paul Harvey 38:01
Fair enough

Frank Butler 38:02
That’s probably the best way of putting it.

Paul Harvey 38:03
I agree.

Frank Butler 38:04
Anyway, this is a long one, Folks, we appreciate you listening.

Paul Harvey 38:08
Well, I was hoping that it would go an hour so we’re just gonna have to fill time here for the next you know…

Frank Butler 38:13
now we’re getting into bad nothing

Paul Harvey 38:17
Say more interesting stuff, damnit! It’s your job.

Frank Butler 38:21
Oh, uh…uh…lawsuits…yeah.

Paul Harvey 38:28
Listeners gonna sue us for boring them.

Frank Butler 38:34
Oh, dang. Yeah, we hit the point of bad nothing at that point.

Paul Harvey 38:38
Yup. How’s the podcast going? Eh, we got sued for boring listeners to contemplate suicide.

Frank Butler 38:45
I think even worse would be we lose some subscribers. That would be like the worst.

Paul Harvey 38:50
Please don’t unsubscribe.

Frank Butler 38:52
No. In fact, share with your friends.

Paul Harvey 38:54
Ah, yes

Frank Butler 38:54
Maybe in this case, this episode, share with your enemies.

Paul Harvey 38:57
Hmm. Nice. Or with people you know that are just chronically bored at work.

Frank Butler 39:03
Oh, yeah. Oh, perfect. Audience right.

Paul Harvey 39:05
Yup.

Frank Butler 39:05
This is a good way to kill an hour folks.

Paul Harvey 39:08
Listen to The Busyness Paradox! Alright, start over: You’re bored at work, all you do is listen to episodes of Busyness Paradox. The End.

Frank Butler 39:17
Hello, Busybodies.

Paul Harvey 39:19
Good day.

Frank Butler 39:21
Oh, boy.

Paul Harvey 39:22
I think it’s time we cut ourselves off. See, this is what happens! You try to fill time and next thing you know you’re spouting nonsense.

Frank Butler 39:28
What were we talking about?

Paul Harvey 39:30
I don’t know. Nothing.

Frank Butler 39:30
Nothing. Like this episode doesn’t even exist. It’s an hour of time. I will never get back again ever.

Paul Harvey 39:36
Neither will you listener.

Frank Butler 39:40
We actually hope you enjoyed listening to this. Hope you got some good stuff out. I’d love to hear from you. Let us know if there’s a topic you want to talk about or about your experiences of filling in nothingness.

Paul Harvey 39:50
Yeah, I got nothing else.

Frank Butler 39:52
Yeah, me neither. I’m tapped.

Paul Harvey 39:54
Nothing

Frank Butler 39:54
Nothing

Paul Harvey 39:56
Good day folks.

Paul Harvey 39:59
The Busyness Paradox is distributed by Paul Harvey and Frank Butler. Our theme music is adapted from It’s Business Time by Jemaine Clements and Bret McKenzie. Our production manager is Justin Wuntaek. We hope you’ve enjoyed this episode, and we’d love to hear from you. Please send any questions, comments or ideas for future episode topics to input@busynessparadox.com, or find us on Twitter. Also, be sure to visit our website, busynessparadox.com, to read our blog posts and for links to the articles and other resources mentioned in today’s show. Finally, please take a moment to rate and follow or subscribe to our show on Apple podcasts. Spotify iHeartRadio Google podcasts or wherever the heck you get your podcasts.


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