The Art of Looking Busy – Improving Corporate Culture and Performance

http://www.medimanage.com/Images/woman-bored-at-work.jpg
http://www.medimanage.com/Images/woman-bored-at-work.jpg

Since the dawn of man’s discovery of pretense, his skills have evolved into a very convincing array of deceptive behaviors.  Whether it is a simple white lie or an intricate ploy to best other people, the art of deception is truly an art form.  In today’s corporate world, there are some who have mastered the art of deception but in a very unique way.  With these new breed of employees, the Art of Looking Busy was born. 

Employees who seamlessly blend with other staff but surprisingly fail to do their work day in day out.  Not even change management, training and development or strict leadership and management strategies have truly quelled their existence.  Organizational culture has accepted them perhaps through failure to weed them out of the corporate population. 

So the first step is for managers and supervisors to identify how the art of looking busy is employed in their offices.

http://blog.lunchclik.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Unproductive-meeting.jpg
http://blog.lunchclik.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Unproductive-meeting.jpg

Important reminder:

Not all suggestions may be applicable. Courses of action must consider other office policies and of course the employee’s rights.

1. Pseudo-meetings

One of the common tactics of people who practice the art is to create pseudo meetings. They huddle round as if in a meeting but are actually just sharing stories and gossip. What’s amazing about this is that even if you’re not a card-carrying member of the art of looking busy community, you can be easily drawn into their dark side. Think of this as their recruitment strategy.

Signs:

  • No meeting agenda
  • People are just fooling around
  • No one taking charge or presiding over the meeting
  • No one is even taking notes
  • No relevant paraphernalia, files or documents
  • No outputs

Course of action:

  • Be informed about the department’s/team’s meeting
  • Ask for outputs of the meeting
  • Get a copy of the minutes of the meeting
  • Join the meeting

2. Glued to the computer technique

This is probably one of the most convincing art-of-looking-busy strategies since employees really look like they are working. Employees look swamped with office work as they are glued to the monitor of their computers. In fact, some are so good at it that they give you I’m-busy-make-it-quick look when you try to talk to them. However, instead of working, they spend time on the computer with non-work related activities.

Signs:

  • Unusually weird instances of smiling and laughing alone since they’re probably reading forwarded message in their email
  • Rhythmic clicking of the mouse button typical in harvesting, plowing and/or planting on some farm-based online game or perhaps doing PTC
  • Back log in output in spite of time spent on the computer/workstation
  • Employee quickly minimizes everything on the desktop or changes what’s on the computer screen when you pass by. The Alt + Tab is definitely a favorite among users of this technique (fine motor dexterity and speed is a must).

Course of action:

  • Provide a timetable of outputs
  • Ask updates and work accomplishment reports from employees
  • Have social networking sites blocked by the IT Department (unless it’s vital to their work e.g. PR, marketing)
  • Post a Gantt chart for everyone to follow
  • Ask feedbacks and accomplishment time from employees
  • Do spot checks of workstations

3. Covert Excessive Personal Phone Communication

The employee uses company time to do personal calls. But this is not limited to using company phones. It may include using own cell phone, texting and other means of communication that hinders productivity at work. This is the time where technology can be both a useful tool or a hindrance to productivity.

Signs:

  • Employee speaks too dubiously soft so that no one can hear what they are saying
  • Employee abruptly changes tone of voice while talking when you pass by
  • Employee quickly puts the phone down hoping nobody notices
  • Always hunched down humbling with phone (that never stops ringing or vibrating)
  • Easily distracted
  • Lack of attention

Note 1: I know several people who can text even without looking at their phones. It’s a skill that most art-of-looking-busy followers try to learn. They can carry a conversation with you while texting at the same time. Yes, it’s talent! They call it multi-tasking!

Note 2: Multi tap keypads work best for this technique. Qwerty phones make it harder to do this but I’m not saying it’s impossible.

Course of action:

  • Log company phone calls
  • Have a rule on personal phone calls or non-work related calls
  • Monitor work and outputs

4. Off-office pseudo-meetings

The staff takes an official business leave even if the meeting is remotely connected with office work. A variation of this is when the staff actually has a business meeting outside but does not report back to the office immediately after the meeting.

Signs:

  • A shopping bag when the employee goes back to the office is a big give away
  • Usually can’t be reached through the phone even if the meeting has already ended
  • Time spent on meting outside are obviously too long

Course of action:

  • Have meetings outside monitored and approved by supervisor
  • Ask for a trip ticket to detail key locations that the employee will go
  • Ask for validated parking tickets to verify whereabouts
  • Low-jack the company car, GPS system can help track company vehicles
  • Ask employees to regularly report about outside meetings, time they reach the meeting place, time meeting adjourned, etc.

http://3.bp.blogspot.com
http://3.bp.blogspot.com

Don't photocopy your butt. It's just unsanitary and rude.

5. Too long to photocopy

The employee takes forever to do a simple photocopying errand. The copy room has become the new pantry where people go to meet when it’s not yet break time. In a way, it has become the unofficial art-of-looking-busy annex with the comfort room still being the global headquarters.

Signs:

  • Employees take so much time just to photocopy just a few documents with reasons ranging from lack of toner to complexity of using the machine. (Helping the employee locate the “start” or “copy” button does not necessarily improve their speed)
  • Employees photocopy documents that are not supposed to be photocopied
  • Gathering of people in the photocopy area for no apparent reason (it’s a contender for the art-of-looking-busy meeting venue of the year award with the hallways still taking the lead)

Course of action:

  • Teach employees to use the photocopy machine (from changing the toner down to the most efficient way of pushing the start button)
  • Keep a log of photocopied documents with special attention to the actual document, the department and the person doing the photocopying task

http://www.dreamsystemsmedia.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/bored.jpg
http://www.dreamsystemsmedia.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/bored.jpg

They will hate you...so what's new?

As a manager or supervisor, you need to create a corporate culture that values productivity. Of course we don’t want to overwork our employees or implement unreasonable rules. However, we don’t want to create an organizational culture that allows feigning work either. In getting your ducks in line don't expect a nomination for the congeniality award or most loved boss award. In fact, chances are they will hate you.

When it comes to employees and how they feel about new and restrictive rules, here are some concepts that I usually let employees and managers to ponder on:

  • Better with rules than anarchy
  • Better angry than unproductive
  • Better disciplined than fired!

Though many supervisors and managers will easily opt to replace their employees, there is cost of hiring and training new employees. As a human resource developer, I value the importance of empowering the employee through trainings and programs. We try to exhaust every means to help them so that we can help the company. But remember, as much as you want to help the person, if they are no longer being cooperative and productive, you must take action. This is still business and not a rehabilitation center for people who feign working.

Corporate culture and performance are intimately linked together. By understanding how the employees go about their work day, you can gauge how productive (or unproductive) your team actually is.

Have you seen the Art of Looking Busy being practiced in your office? A better question is what are you doing about it?

Other topics to improve your organization:

How To Harness The Power of Listening

Many misinterpret communication as merely talking. When we fail to listen, we fail to communicate. Here's how listening can be utilized in a more productive way.

The importance of Flexibility in Planning

Have you ever had a plan where every detail worked out flawlessly? Chances are there were tweaks that needed to be done. Discover how important flexibility is in implementing a successful plan.

Excellent Teams Help Each Other Grow

Every team member looks to the team leader, manager or supervisor when it comes to developing each member's potential. But creating a the right culture, mindset and even skills is a shared responsibility of each member. Learn how important it is to help each other grow.

Accountability: The Art of Owning the Task

Who owns the task in your team? Unless every person owns up to the responsibility, tasks will be done half-heartedly. As such, the productivity of an organization is determined in part by the level of accountability that each individual shows.

More by this Author


Comments 54 comments

David Warren profile image

David Warren 5 years ago from Nevada

Voted up and funny! I had some masters of this game at my last place of employment.


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

Hi David, I think every office has some masters of this art.


Wayne K. WIlkins profile image

Wayne K. WIlkins 5 years ago from Birmingham, England.

Flawless Hub, keep up the great work!

Voted up and enjoyed a quality read :)


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

I'm glad you enjoyed the hub. Thanks for the vote up Wayne.


shanaya profile image

shanaya 5 years ago from Living in my Own Dreams:)

Dear Sir Jpcmc! Very well written. good work:)

UP, Useful,:)


chuckandus6 profile image

chuckandus6 5 years ago from The Country-Side

voted awesome great hub Jp


GoingOnline profile image

GoingOnline 5 years ago

I've meet some specialists on my time... the worst bit is when they drag YOU to THEIR meetings when you have things to do. Wish they added a "so true" tag for feedback ;)

Voted up!


WriterDJ profile image

WriterDJ 5 years ago

yeah I agree GoingOnline, jpmc great hub, will remember for these 3 : Better with rules than anarchy. Better angry than unproductive. Better disciplined than fired!

Some others are funny things employee did


Pamela N Red profile image

Pamela N Red 5 years ago from Oklahoma

I knew a woman that was a pro at this. She worked for a couple of years before anyone caught on and transferred her to a busier position. She was addicted to some medieval online game.

People who really are busy and have too much to do are seldom sympathetic to such folly.


mariale2003 profile image

mariale2003 5 years ago

Funny to me because is SO REAL!! I see that a lot...thank you for sharing


ccdursina profile image

ccdursina 5 years ago from Spring Green WI

Interesting enough to make me not to WANT to go back to the corporate office ever again!


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

Hi there ccdursina. It's a shame you won't be able to share your experiences to the corporate world. Enjoy the life without the corporate red tape.:)


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

Nice to see you again mariale2003. It's surprising how much mastery of the arts people have nowadays.


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

Hi Pamela, In one company I worked for, everyone was hooked on counter strike. There were teams for each department. What's worse is that some supervisors were even part of the team.


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

Nice of you to find value in what I wrote WriterDJ. Whether you're an employee or the boss, these three insights will help. I just hope the rest of the corporate world will see it as well.


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

Hello Going Online. Some employees huddle together to vent out their frustration on work, their bosses or anything for that matter. Many expect you to do the same. If you don't they'd think of you as the "spy". That's social dynamics at work.


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

Thanks for the awesome feedback chuckandus6


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

Dear Madam Shanaya :), thanks for the positive feedbacks. I do hope you found the hub informative and entertaining at the same time.


marcoujor profile image

marcoujor 5 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

jpcmc,

This was so well written, from both sides! I voted it UP, USEFUL and just a bit FUNNY... I kept thinking of George Costanza in the Seinfeld show where he mastered the art of looking busy, like so many I have worked with.

I suppose it is a tendency of human nature for some... and others are wired to make up for it? I'm not sure, I have just never learned this art of looking busy but I thank you for the tutorial! Have a great day!


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

Thanks for dropping by marcoujor. And thanks for the positive feedbacks.

George was definitely a guru! I think every office has one. Most people just don't do anything about it. I'm glad you learned from the hub. But use at your own risk. LOL


sean kinn profile image

sean kinn 5 years ago from Key West and Budapest

Hey! I was going to write this Hub. Guess I'm too late. :-) The only thing I would add would be people who talk on the telephone to other people who have also perfected the art of getting nothing done all day (the conversation sounds important when listened to on both ends, not). Keep up the good work. This is the best information I've seen on this topic to date. SK


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

Hi Sean Kinn. Please do write your hub. I'm sure there are so lots I've missed. :) It pays to have a fresh set of ideas and viewpoints.


Carmen Laurencio 5 years ago

This is a FACT of EMPLOYMENT LIFE. Enlightening, it is! And, funny too. But, we have to also realize, that even the days that we are out of work, we are on leave, perhaps, we are contacting or being contacted about matters of work that would really disturb our day/s of rest. And, we cannot just ignore it because it's our boss who's calling or the other way around. Another one is when we are about to leave the office, "may pahabol pa" until we would able to leave 30 minutes later, etc. But again, those were another FACTS of LIFE. So our bosses also master the Art of "Disturbing",or what may have you. So i feel,everything just need to be fair and balance.


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

That's so true Ms. Carmen. It's important to have a balance between rest and work. When we engage in either of the two, we try our best to keep our focus.


Edward Laurencio II 5 years ago

Voted up sir!

This is nice! Very nice!

Thank you!


primpo profile image

primpo 5 years ago from Ocean County New Jersey

wonderfully written.. did alot of research or is this from experience? lol lloll


primpo profile image

primpo 5 years ago from Ocean County New Jersey

oh and I voted up!!!


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

Hey there primpo. It's nice to be back after a long absence in hubpages. Own experiences validated by other masters in the art. lol. Thanks for the vote up.


SallyTX profile image

SallyTX 4 years ago from Only In Texas!

Voted up & funny! You can tell if someone isn't paying attention in a meeting if you ask them a question, and they say, "Hmmm...That's an interesting question. I'll have to get back to you on that!" ;D


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 4 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

Hi SallyTX. I've used that question many times before. LOL

Thanks for the vote up.


rLcasaLme profile image

rLcasaLme 4 years ago from Dubai, United Arab Emirates

I am a master of these.

Oops! Just a minute, my boss is coming!

Gotta Alt+Tab! Gotta Alt+Tab!


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 4 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

HI rLcasaLme. Alt+tab is really helpful. LOL If you have other Art of looking busy tricks do share them - of course this is for academic purposes. :)


rLcasaLme profile image

rLcasaLme 4 years ago from Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Perhaps I could add "Smashing your mouse a bit," pretending that you've been frustrated by its non function. It gives the impression that you were in a middle of something. LoL!


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 4 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

@rLcasaLme. Ha ha nice addition to the list.


Dhiren Shah 4 years ago

you share your experience?


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 4 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

I've seen these in many companies. Thanks for reading and commenting Dhiren Shah


mattdigiulio profile image

mattdigiulio 4 years ago

This is funny. I'm an aspiring organizational psychologist, and your work seems to tie right in to this area. Voting up, interesting, useful (for me definitely), etc. Thanks! Matt D.


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 4 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

Hello there mattdigiulio. I'm glad you found the hub useful. I do organizational development consultancy with different companies and I found that these are the most common Art of Looking Busy in my country. Perhaps you can do a similar research. Good luck on your organizational psychology endeavor. Do write about your exploits and share it with the community. have a nice day.


Tonipet profile image

Tonipet 4 years ago from The City of Generals

Educating employees with things they needed to do and allowing them to do their jobs, is already a big thing to productivity, I believe in that too. Helps get new leaders than get new employees. VERY very helpful concepts.... and funny! I'm bookmarking your hub and definitely sharing. Warren Buffet would love you! Voted up and across. THANK YOU jpcmc!


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 4 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

Hi there Tonipet. Thanks for the kind words and all the positive clicks you did. I often see these employee habits and it's taking a toll on productivity. A billionaire like Warren Buffet definitely values productivity.


Jeannieinabottle profile image

Jeannieinabottle 4 years ago from Baltimore, MD

This is a really great hub. I have to admit, I do practice the art of looking busy on and off at work, but I get all my assignments done. I've noticed I simply work faster than some people (I think it is because I don't make as many mistakes, so I am not wasting time constantly fixing things!). At any rate, I don't feel guilty about it. I feel like people should be paid per task rather than per hour anyway. I'll bet there would be much more productivity at an office that paid per task rather than per hour. Awesome hub and voted up!


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 4 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

Hello Jeannieinabottle,

From time to time, we do commit some of these things. There are days when work is just too boring. There are some companies who adapt an HR management model that actually pay employees per task and not by the hour. It has its pros and cons. Thanks for the kind words and the vote up.


Nate Penn 4 years ago

Ha ha this is really funny. Unconsciously I'm a master of this art.


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 4 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

Hello Nate,

Many are masters of the art of looking busy. Most don't even know they have the skill.


Jacob 4 years ago

I did not know there is a science behind looking busy at work. Very funny and useful. I should cover my tracks.


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 4 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

Hello Jacob,

Oh yes, the art of looking busy is a growing science. :)


Lex santos 3 years ago

We do a lot of pseudo meetings in the department. It's a nice way to unwind...LOL We need to catch up on the latest gossip.


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 3 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

Hi Lexie, Didn't yo get the office memo? No more pseudo-meetings every Thursdays and Fridays! LOL


healthmunsta profile image

healthmunsta 3 years ago

Even I have been caught looking dead bored at work...My senior actually came up to me and gave me the most valuable career advice ever, "Atleast try to look busy!" From then on, I've been practising the art of looking busy and I am getting quite good at it! Hahaha, this was a fun read!


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 3 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

hi healthmunsta,

Some are born experts while others need a practice. I usually find a few employees actively engaged in this. Some are really good at it.


healthmunsta profile image

healthmunsta 3 years ago

Lol, indeed some have natural talent while the rest must channel a lot of hard work and dedication to look busy while doing nothing. Lol! Thanks for the engaging hub. Wish you the best, buddy.


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 3 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

Hi healthmunsta,

I'm glad you enjoyed the hub. Go forth and look busy.


wheelinallover profile image

wheelinallover 22 months ago from Central United States

Every business I was a partner in, the amount of money the company made was based on performance. There were times when it was not break time we allowed people to rest and talk to each other. These were usually when there were problems with logistics. You can't install what isn't there.

When it was time to work though slackers didn't last long. Any work they didn't do had to be done by a co-worker. Believe me an unhappy co-worker soon let management know they were carrying the load. Even so the turnover was low.

What I found was a team approach worked best. When the employees feel they are part of a team they don't want to let other team members down.


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 22 months ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

Hi wheelinallover,

Thank you for sharing your insights on the topic. It is true that having a team approach can improve corporate culture. In fact, many companies now understand the value of group dynamics and how it can improve productivity. And in many of the newer corporate setups, the balance between allowing rest and relaxation and structured programs allow greater outcome.

Again, thank you for sharing your wonderful points.

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