Why I want to start a “Ban Busy” movement

‘I want to be the founder of the Ban Busy movement!‘ is a statement I have made at numerous speaking gigs and women’s leadership programs that I have facilitated.

I implore the women listening to me, ‘If someone asks you how you are…please don’t answer busy. Busy is a state of doing, not a state of being.’ Saying you’re busy conjures up no coping. Not in control. Not capable.

Saying you’re busy conjures up, not coping. Not in control. Not capable.

Busy is enormously exasperating

I have been exasperated about the auto-response of ‘busy’ when you ask how people are. It used to be just in the hallowed halls of corporate Australia that this occurred. However, I have felt like this canned response was creeping further and further into the daily vernacular. It feels to me like ‘busy’ is becoming the equivalent of the chirpy, insincere have a nice day that we Australians have long sniggered at. That’s one of the reasons why I want to ban busy.

Busy has become a status symbol

The Sydney Morning Herald described the term as ‘an overused humblebrag’ in its article in late 2016.  A way to demonstrate one’s own importance, value and a dubious badge of honour. Unfortunately, studies have shown that declaring one’s busyness conveys a perception of hard work which in turn will bring the busy person success. Oh dear, my ban busy movement is under threat!

What about busy women?

My chief concern is the effect that the ‘ugh I’m so busy’ response has on women who want to advance. Navigating gender bias, perceptions about gender roles and the prevailing belief that women are too busy with the 3 C’s (Caring. Cooking. Cleaning.) to worry about advancement is challenging enough without inadvertently adding fuel to the fire. When women say they are busy, they are not viewed in the same way that men are when they claim the same thing. Women are more likely to be viewed as incapable or incompetent in managing their workload.

Here are 10 things I have learned about “BUSY”

I did an impromptu survey of women in my professional network about what being busy meant to them. I was surprised at the insights and as a result, I realised that there is an opportunity to change the game. Busy might be a status symbol for some, but perhaps it’s a shield for others?

  1. Busy is a deflector
  2. Busy is a defence mechanism
  3. Busy means I am bored out of my brain
  4. Busy means that I work on meaningless crap
  5. Busy is a cry for help
  6. Busy is a status symbol
  7. Busy means I am disengaged
  8. Busy means I want you to go away
  9. Busy means I am not slacking off even if you think I am

The solution is authentic, compassionate leadership.

Leaders, time to step up to the authenticity and compassion plate and take a swing! Yes, I mean connect with the human you have asked ‘How are you?’ by having a caring, compassionate and accountable second question ready. Demonstrate your care, compassion and respect for the person you are enquiring after.

Question Answer Follow Up
How are you? ‘Phwoar, busy! Really? So, what’s creating all that busyness? Can I help?
How are you? I feel like I haven’t seen you for ages? ‘Sorry, so busy, been in back to back meetings all day/week/month’                       Wow. Sounds like you need a hand. What can we do?
How are you? ‘Flat out busy, my schedule is crazy’ Come and have a coffee, let’s talk about what’s going on for you.

If you can’t do this, don’t ask ‘how are you’ as it’s simply the fairy floss of conversation. Saccharine sweet and disappears in a jiffy.

Women – Please Ban Busy!

I’m still going to champion ban busy for women because I believe that women are joining a cult that no one really wants to be in. I want women to own their leadership brand and to be confident, authentic and fearless. Answering ‘busy’ doesn’t honour or do your brand any favours, ever!

However, the 10th thing I learned about busy is that leaders need to get to the heart of what’s really going on for their people and their workplaces. Leaders need to ask more human questions!



About Michelle

Michelle is fearless in the pursuit of what sets her soul on fire which is closing the global leadership gender gap in business and in sport. She is a trusted advisor to Boards, CEOs and leaders across the world who are serious about creating diverse and inclusive workplaces where women and other under-represented people can reach their full potential.