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5 reasons leaders should disengage and reject hustle culture

Many employers constantly look for ways to be more engaged. But this might not be the most productive thing to do.

5 reasons leaders should disengage and reject hustle culture
[Photo: Martin Adams/Unsplash]

If you subscribe to the culture of busyness, otherwise known as hustle culture, you’ve fallen victim to the always-on, go-without-stopping, busy-is-cool lifestyle.

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Sometimes people even use busyness as a signal of status. When someone asks them how they are, they reply with, “I’m so busy!” Why? Because it makes them feel important. They think that those who are busy have an essential set of skills in high demand, and those with too much to do are highly valued and sought after.

But our cult of busyness and hustle is undermining our effectiveness and happiness, despite the social norms to the contrary. It’s time to put aside busyness and find ways to disengage. Yes, businesses seek engagement and lament data that suggests only one-third of employees are actively engaged. But maybe they shouldn’t be striving for engagement. Instead, they should encourage more disengagement.

Here are four good business reasons to break the busyness habit, especially as a manager.

You can think better

You probably know that constant multitasking is bad for your brain, and makes it challenging to bring deep focus to any work. You need to focus if you want to solve problems and think in new ways. The ways you consume information can change your patterns of perception and causes you to process information more superficially. But when you take breaks and remove yourself from the constancy of work, you can reprioritize deeper-level processing and meaning in your work.

You’re more likely to come up with innovative ideas

In our frenetic pace, we’ve lost the in-between times when our minds can wander. Gone are the minutes in the car when we’re just listening to our favorite song or waiting in line at the grocery store, and we can just be. We tend to fill these moments with conference calls or the opportunity to catch up on our emails–even for a few seconds. But getting away from work has multiple benefits. In one study, taking the time to do artwork increased participants’ self-confidence and belief in their ability to complete their work-related tasks. Another study found that allowing time for the mind to wander resulted in people feeling refreshed and less stressed, and put them in a better place to tackle their work.

You’ll be in better health

Popular business literature is rife with articles about the stress caused by poor management practices and unrealistic expectations. Sometimes it’s not even the work itself that causes stress. It’s the expectation of constant availability and the feeling of being sucked dry by the workplace.

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But we aren’t robots, and we can’t be at our best when we’re always on. We must take breaks. Consider a pilot. On a long flight, the pilot isn’t flying the plane in manual mode constantly. Those moments when the aircraft is flying through a clear, barrier-free sky, they fly on autopilot. This keeps the pilot fresh for times when his or her skills are most necessary–during take-off, landing, or challenging moments that come up during flight. One study demonstrated that when people rely on technology to house key information–allowing them to personally “forget” while the technology “remembers,” it helped them make better decisions. When they don’t have too much information on their brains, they reported higher levels of well-being and were able to improve the quality of their work.

You’ll set reasonable expectations for everyone else

It’s a leadership fallacy that managers can shield their employees from too much work by working more themselves. What they’re doing is setting an example of their team’s workload.

The primary way people learn is by watching others. When leaders or colleagues work long hours, they inadvertently send a message to others that they should do the same. By freeing up time, managing boundaries and having a life, leaders, and coworkers can set the expectation that employees shouldn’t feel beholden to their work 24/7.

You’ll be in a better place to develop others

Finally, disengaging every now and then creates the opportunity for others to develop their skills. When a team member can get away or take a vacation, it opens the door for others to cover for her. A coworker’s holiday can be the perfect opportunity for another team member to step in and stretch his skills to fill the gap. My former boss, Jack, used to say a competent leader could take vacations because she had a capable team who could handle things while she was away. If a leader couldn’t take a vacation, it was a reflection she hadn’t adequately developed the team.

Engagement isn’t a bad thing. After all, it’s a sign of passion, interest, and a willingness to invest discretionary effort. But genuine engagement must come with limits and boundaries that allow for disengagement.

If you can’t disengage, you can never fully engage. Disengagement pays dividends to businesses and workers who can live better, perform better, and have a life–perhaps even a great one.

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Tracy Brower, PhD, MM, MCRw, is a sociologist focused on work, workers, and workplace, working for Steelcase. She is the author of Bring Work to Life by Bringing Life to Work: A Guide for Leaders and Organizations.

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