I can’t tell you how many times clients have said to me that they are just too busy to tackle wellbeing. I’ve heard it so often now I am sure in many cases it is just another excuse.

Too Busy

Too busy to attend meetings about tackling workplace wellbeing. Too busy to instigate a strategy for wellbeing. Too busy to do something about their own stress and distress. Or to deal with the high levels of turnover or to stop the grievances from employees who expected better support from their managers.

It might sound a bit harsh but the reality is that being busy can be a great excuse. One that is used extensively in our lives and our workplaces. One that most people don’t even recognise they are doing!

Everyone has the Too Busy Disease!

“Busyness” is now the scourge of modern day living. Everyone suffers from it!

When someone asks you how you are – you can pretty much guarantee that most people respond with – “i’m so Busy”!

It’s the reason we don’t know our neighbours at home and why we don’t talk to our neighbours at work. Even people who are retired say they are “busy” or even worse – “too busy!”

Busyness Starts At An Early Age

We feel there’s something wrong if we aren’t packing our lives full every minute of every day. This all starts at an early age. Parents of young children pack their days full with activities. Children are taken from activity to activity. Many of them are exhausted and overstimulated and react with poor behaviour. They don’t have any down time.

Not Being Busy is Regarded With Horror

It wasn’t always like this. Years ago people aspired to have obtained success when they had lots of leisure time. This was something that affluent people had and others wanted to be like that. Now it is the reverse – celebrities complain of being too busy. And not being busy is regarded with horror and seen as some sort of a failing!

Too Busy To Make Love!

So we are now in a world where people are quick to say they are too busy. Too busy to read to their kids. Too busy to breastfeed the baby. Too busy to walk the dog. Too busy to speak on the phone or meet up with friends. Too busy to exercise. To give up smoking. To see the GP.

Even too busy to make love!

We Are Working Longer Hours Than Ever

Within the workplace people have more demands placed upon them than ever. Targets, bureaucracy, masses of emails and of course the blurring of work-home life boundaries.

Here in the UK people are working longer hours than ever – we work more hours than anyone else in Europe! Once you add to that long commutes then you have a long working day.

Teachers who Like to Moan About Being Too Busy

Ever sat in a staff room and listened to teachers moaning about their work load? How stressed they are? How tired they are? It would be reasonable to think that they would jump at help when it’s offered to them.

Yet when they are offered help to tackle their stress or sleep they say they are too busy to do anything about it. They want to change their situation but not enough to do anything about it.

This isn’t specific to teachers – it can be seen in other groups of people, in other teams in other workplaces.

Nothing Can be Changed

I have worked in teams where in meetings we used to moan about how tough our jobs were and how busy we were. Initially we felt better for getting together with others and collectively complaining about our lot. But after a while of doing this there was a sense of despair and disengagement as people began to believe that nothing could be changed so there was no point in even trying. Nothing ever changed.

Too Busy to be Ill 

What about the person who sits in the office sniffing and moaning about how ill they are, happily spreading their germs to everyone else? When confronted they say that they are too busy to be off ill! 

Levels of presenteeism are a far better indicator of the health of a workforce in most sectors than sickness levels now. Fear and martyrdom keep people into work when if it were culturally acceptable to take time off it would be better for everyone. Especially those who get given the dreaded lurgy!


Others carry their busyness as a form of martyrdom. “Look at me I am so busy I haven’t even time to stop and breath!”

For some it’s a competition to be the busiest. They want to win the martyrdom prize and be the person who has had the least sleep because of work, or who was sending emails at 4am.

What about the HR Director who worries about the wellbeing of their people?

What about the HR Director who worries about the wellbeing of their people? About the distress and waste of talented people who were once vibrant and enthusiastic workers but now can’t even return to work.

But despite being HR Director she is just too busy to highlight the issue and do what is needed to get wellbeing top of the agenda. Is being busy just an excuse?

Maybe it’s a smoke screen for her lack of knowledge about the topic, or her lack of power and influence within their company! Maybe it’s fear of what might be found when Pandoro’s Box. Maybe avoidance is best and so let’s not go there at all!

What large groups of employees really mean when they say No 

  • In order to manage an unmanageable workload they have decided to work to rule and walk away from extra work
  • When people say No to everything – this is a sign of a stressed group of people who are desperately trying to take control of something
  • People who are fed up seeing and hearing about initiatives that never change anything are cynical and sceptical and suspicious of anything new
  • They are kicking back at management for all the things they have imposed on them
  • No one has explained why this is important for all of them
  • They like being part of a culture that moans about being too busy but doesn’t do anything about it


What individuals mean when they say they are too busy:

  • They are genuinely not interested
  • They don’t believe their contribution can make a difference
  • They think someone else should do it
  • They don’t want to be seen as the ones who have enough time when everyone else is too busy
  • They are so stressed all they can do is focus on. Getting. Through. Each. Day..
  • Whatever issues they are experiencing aren’t painful enough to instigate taking action

So when you want to tackle wellbeing – or any other issue – and people say they are just Too Busy you really need to work out what they really mean when they say it.

Moaning Makes People Feel They Belong

The shared connection people get from moaning that they are too busy is really important. Belonging is a fundamental human need. So you need to help them meet that need in some other way – ideally through the wellbeing work you want to them to get involved in.

In order to change things this requires leadership and culture change. Leadership isn’t just for those at the top. It’s something that takes place all the way through an organisation. Places where people spend a lot of time together such as the office, call centre and staff room can host disaffected resistance leaders.

Those at the top need to show that this issue matters to them and why – stories of real people and their real experiences really gets interest and engagement, and activates compassion and empathy. But at the end of the day those at the top of an organisation can’t change a culture of moaning or saying no just by role modelling alone. Getting people to feel they can make a difference, they do have some control over their destiny and their contribution matters – this will start to create change. And just working out what they mean when they say they are too busy is an important part of this.

Otherwise nothing will ever change!

This is something that we at The Sweet Potato Consultancy can help with.

What other reasons could there be behind “I’m Too Busy”?

Adelle Shaw-Flach is Director of The Sweet Potato Consultancy. A Public Health Nurse and Lecturer she now uses her skills and knowledge to work with businesses to tackle stress, mental health and disengagement.



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