How having no free time became the newest status symbol
While chatting with several friends recently about a new TV show, I enthusiastically recommended it to a friend. “I wish I had time to watch TV,” she said. “I’m just so busy.”
These kinds of conversations have become commonplace in cities across the U.S., where addiction to work has become a new kind of humblebrag — a self-deprecating boast meant primarily to impress. From the gig economy running uninsured employees ragged to corporate careers burning employees out, the top status symbol for Americans is no longer jewelry, lavish vacations or extravagant homes: it is whining about having no time.
Americans are increasingly looking at lack of leisure time as a symbol of prestige, a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research called “Conspicuous Consumption of Time: When Busyness and Lack of Leisure Time Become a Status Symbol” found. And telling everyone how busy you are and running from meeting to meeting doesn’t necessarily mean you are more productive. The study examined “humble brag” social media posts from celebrities, actors and athletes.
One classic example from a stage manager cited in the study reads, “Opened a show last Friday. Begin rehearsals for another next Tuesday. In-between that, meetings in D.C. I HAVE NO LIFE!” Another said, “Had a lot going on these past few weeks. This is way too much to handle!” But the declarations of being appointment-rich and time-poor actually worked. Researchers found that people they surveyed rated those people who were always rushing around and making sure everyone knows it as more in demand and, therefore, more important regardless of whether they were or not.
Of course, most of us truly are busy: The U.S. is one of the most overworked places in the world, and the only advanced nation that doesn’t require paid leave. In fact, less than half of Americans used all of their vacation days last year. They worked longer hours. Employees in Europe work 19% less than those in the U.S., averaging to an hour less per workday or 258 fewer hours a year.
But acting busy can make you look important, the study said, even when that is not the case. Or, to put it in academic parlance: “Long hours of work and busyness may operate as a signal that one possesses desirable human capital capabilities,” the study said.
Workers don’t want to leave the office before the boss
Jenni Park, a 25-year-old learning consultant at a major corporation in Kansas City, Mo., said her company has a “busyness problem” to the point that she recently held a meeting with a team dedicated to improving company culture on the topic. She said many employees feel pressured to act busy even when they aren’t, offering limited availability for meetings even if they don’t have work to do.
“There is a pressure to never portray that you have too much available free time,” she said. “It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy because everyone is acting busier than they are and, in turn, becoming busy with less-productive tasks. It is causing an inefficiency of work when people feel they need to spend unnecessary time on tasks they’ve already completed.”
https://instagram.com/p/BRjAaSAFAU2 The pressure to remain busy may be particularly pronounced in some industries. Stephanie, who asked to withhold her last name for professional purposes, recently left a major advertising firm where employees were pressured to remain busy to the point that it became toxic. “People would stay late at the office in an effort to be the winner of an unspoken contest of who was the most busy, or the one who has the most on their plate,” she said. “My boss and I would have a silent standoff every night not wanting to be the first person to leave early. It was disgusting.”
This compulsive busyness is also bleeding into the dating world, said Quinne Meyers, a 24-year-old Brooklynite who dated a number of “busy” men before she met her current boyfriend, who she says “actually has time for me.” She said many men she met on OkCupid and Tinder would refrain from setting a time for a date or flake on meeting up because they were “busy,” even if they were the one to ask her out. Indeed, a recent study suggested that many over-scheduled young people prefer to swipe right on dating apps than actually meet up.
“The guys who would constantly talk about being busy were the type to really validate their self-worth with their jobs,” she said. “I think this is also a side effect of the ‘lazy millennial’ trope. No one wants to be seen that way, so they go above and beyond to overcompensate, talking about how grueling their work is and how busy they are.”
As we increasingly shift to a “gig” economy, freelancers and others without consistent paychecks have to keep working, or stay “busy” to stay afloat. Riley Cowing, a 25-year-old who lives in Denver and works multiple jobs to pay the bills, said she feels annoyed when people complain, “because in reality, everyone is busy.”
“People absolutely love to complain, and complain about how much they have to do,” she said. “At the end of the day—we all have bills to pay, we all have to fund our own lifestyles. But having ‘no time’ or being ‘too busy’ just isn’t true. It’s our choice. Whether we decide to have two jobs, three jobs, or one. It is our choice to commit our time to these places and simply should not be a piece of our egotistical identity.”
This article was licensed through Dow Jones Direct.
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