Daniel Grill—Getty Images
By Katy Osborn
September 11, 2015

We’ve all sent those emails: “I’m sorry I never got back to you about x…” “I’m so sorry it’s taken so long for me to get you y…” “I’m so so sorry I forgot about z…”

“…I’ve been super busy this week.”

But based on the results of a new study, it’s probably time to rein in the busy excuse.

In a global survey of 10,000 adults in 28 countries published Wednesday by corporate communications company Havas Worldwide, 42% of adults admitted to overstating how busy they really were, and 60% were suspicious that their peers do the same. People are not necessarily playing the busy card to try to get out of something. Mostly, Havas says, it’s because being busy is interpreted as a workplace expectation, not to mention a form of “social currency” in today’s increasingly connected world. It’s a popular excuse in part because it’s an admirable one. Having free time, on the other hand, makes you look dispensable and irrelevant.

This phenomenon of portraying oneself as busier than the reality varies across generations. Millennials are particularly bad: 51% fessed up to exaggeration, and 65% thought their peers were feigning busyness.

The Havas report also featured other insights into the modern American workplace, including how so many of us struggle with patience and sitting still. (Apparently, it’s not only toddlers who have trouble with these issues!) Six out of ten respondents to the study said that waiting is one of the things they hate most; 1 in 5 reported having trouble focusing on just one task at a time.

There were also notable differences from culture to culture. The Havas group report classifies workers in emerging markets like China, Brazil, and India as “the conflicted.” “Conflicted respondents pretend to be busy even though they’d rather relax, possibly because they haven’t ‘quite come to grips’ with the demands of an ever-connected life,” AdWeek explained. In countries like Australia, Belgium, and Italy, meanwhile, the workers are what Havas calls “the fatigued.” They haven’t yet bought the “busier is better” argument, and they want to keep living the slow life.

Alas, here in the U.S.—as well as in France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Canada—workers tend to be “entrenched.” Which is to say we’ve mostly accepted the new reality of needing to be perceived as being busy bees, and are adjusting (and exaggerating) accordingly.

 

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