I was forwarded an email by an old friend of mine the other day. He’s a construction director with a developer in the City (for all you Guardian readers, one of those ones that’s keeping London’s working classes off the property ladder – they’ve just sold over 60% of his latest development off plan to Hong Kong investors…), and when we had coffee in town a few weeks ago, he told me a story I struggled to believe.
He had been chatting with a colleague in the office, and his company’s Head of Comms… or Engagement Chief… or Director of Conversation or something had overheard him saying he was busy. Just chatting with a colleague, someone asked him how he was, and he said “Busy, but blah blah blah” – this head of comms-type stopped, and said “We don’t use that word in this office anymore”. He was thrown, but eventually got to the bottom of it – the gist is that the self-proclaimed guru of chatting to your colleagues (I imagined him as eco-friendly, social-media-plugged-in, uber-wanker Stewart from The Thick of It) had decided that no one in the office should ever say they are busy when asked how they were. There were a few reasons for this (“because busy isn’t a feeling – and surely ‘how are you’ is a question about feelings?”), but it was more or less an attempt to stamp out the moaning from a stressed out, hard-pushed workforce.
This, of course, is an absolute triumph of the sort of softly-softly but incredibly invasive office politics that every hates. It is bullshit of the highest order. It’s why you should probably all quit your jobs immediately and go it alone.
I didn’t believe this friend of mine when he told me this. Not like when you politely say “No way…”, but I literally didn’t believe him. Which is why he forwarded me the follow-up email that his chief whip had sent him. “Hi there, hope your day is going brilliantly! Find attached an extremely illuminating article “Why We All Need to Stop Saying We’re Busy” (or something…) – would appreciate your thoughts! Great chat the other day, keep up the great work buddy.” This friend of mine is in his mid-fifties. He’s a well-respected, fairly important guy. He makes good money. He’s worked hard for a really long time to get to where he is.
And some hot-shot young engagement specialist is telling him to hang on in there and calling him buddy. It’s enough to make your blood boil, isn’t it?
It’s also rubbish – when did being busy become a bad thing? I belong to a generation of sales people who were never happier than when they were busy – they thrived on it, they fed on it, they grew strong on it. This weird, thought-police-y attitude towards “being busy” only serves to promote the idea that being busy is a nightmare. It’s bad to even talk about being busy, let alone actually being it.
It also undermines the sort of brotherhood-of-the-trenches that you get in an office during times of stress and heavy workload. It’s one of the few big pluses of working in an office – the way that colleagues bolster, support and motivate each other, share war-stories and ways it could all be worse. If you don’t let people even mention that they’re busy, you’re blowing all of that out of the water.
Maybe it’s just my friend’s company that’s doing this – God knows even one company peddling this nonsense is enough – but have you come across anything similar? Would love to hear your thoughts on this – it genuinely surprised me, and genuinely worried me the more I thought about it. Also, if he’s a seasoned veteran director and is on the sharp end of this, how must his troops on the ground be finding it?