The new status symbol? Being busy. It’s not about having a luxury car, it’s about the perception that the more jam-packed your days are, the more important you are. In today’s information overload of a world, the feeling of being overwhelmed is easy to give into. Three new studies demonstrate that being “so busy” has become the new badge of honor. Listen up marketers: “busyness” is replacing conspicuous consumption as an indicator for our worth.
Think of all the humblebrags you see in social media. I’m in desperate need of a vacation. I have no life. I don’t know if I can make it through all the meetings I have today. The underlying message: I am so important. Our sense of self worth is tied to how frantic our days are.
Researchers at Columbia School of Business looked at a timesaving grocery service associated with a busy lifestyle (i.e., Peapod, an online shopping and delivery service) v. grocery brand associated with a more well-off lifestyle (i.e., Whole Foods) and to a control brand (i.e., Trader Joe’s). The study demonstrates that using Peapod can signal status as much as using an expensive brand, such as Whole Foods. Saving time is key in the busy lifestyle. Surprisingly, Peapod was more impressive than Trader Joe’s.
What does this mean for your organization? For managing change? Often we tout one of the benefits of a change being “streamlined work” which boils down to people actually having less to do. Dangerous, if busy is the new black. People hold on to all the things they have to do. At one client, a senior administrative assistant actually said “You’ll have to pry my to-do list out of my cold, dead hands”. Dramatic! She was quite attached to her responsibilities and a new change to streamline the work of scheduling and project management was not motivating to her at all.
But if you can appeal to a person’s sense of current busyness, you can start the conversation about the importance of the work in the new world. And how that person is critical in accomplishing that work. Start small by doing the following:
- Find 2-3 people who are most impacted by the change and spend time understanding their current day-to-day work
- Ask them what they enjoy about their work and what they wish were different
- Identify what they are worried about in the new change and what they’re looking forward to.
- End with one specific action each person can take in understanding the new change and helping to implement it.
As a leader, remember to check the way you are setting an example. In hallway conversations, when someone asks you how you are, check how many times you want to brusquely say “Busy” and move on. Don’t fall victim to busy is the new black.