Busy work is the ‘‘work’’ you fake when things are slow at the office.
But the very fact that there’s a lull in business activity means your job could be on the line.
So having a lot of downtime is a wake-up call to make sure that you use that time well — instead of sitting there, pretending to be productive.
‘‘It’s important not only to be productive in order to maintain your employment, but to feel productive,’’ said Sarah Michaelson, employment counselor at JobWorks, the employment opportunities department of Anixter Center, headquartered in Chicago. Anixter is a nonprofit organization serving people with disabilities.
‘‘When you don’t look busy, you’re vulnerable to layoffs and your colleagues may think you’re slacking off,’’ said Michaelson, who has a master’s degree in counseling. ‘‘It’s not your fault that your workload is lighter, but it is time to dig a little bit deeper and come up with new ideas.’’
The counselor uses her downtime to extend her outreach to potential employers. ‘‘My job sometimes reflects the economy,’’ said Michaelson, whose department has a staff of six. ‘‘When things are busy, we’re busy placing people. But when the economy is slow, things tend to be slower.’’
And that’s when she looks for ‘‘untapped sources of employment for some of my job seekers. I try to think of people I’ve met through my social and business contacts who might be helpful, to come up with project ideas and help my colleagues with their workload. And sometimes, just by going through my desk and cleaning it out and updating files, I find new leads and even old contacts to get in touch with.’’
Recently, she found a business card from an insurance executive she met at a diversity job fair last year. ‘‘We talked about possibly placing people with them but we hadn’t been in touch,’’ she said. ‘‘So I called — and now we’re working together.’’
Here are some other things to do that are productive, according to Michaelson: Think about the larger goals of both your job and the company. Look into training courses in your field. Create a database of clients and other information you need on a daily basis. Read material related to your profession. Talk to your supervisor about how you can be helpful.
And there are things you should not do. ‘‘Many people spend too much time on the phone attending to personal business,’’ Michaelson said. ‘‘Or they read nonwork-related material. And everyone knows what they’re doing.’’
But the biggest mistake is ‘‘going on the Internet for your own entertainment purposes. It’s not advisable.’’
That means you shouldn’t surf the Internet or play computer games. ‘‘The challenge that companies have faced . . . is that many of the technological innovations aimed at improving individual workplace productivity have carried with them the risk of wasted time and resources,’’ said Frederick S. Lane, author of ‘‘The Naked Employee: How Technology Is Compromising Workplace Privacy’’ (AMACOM, $24.95).
Lane, an expert on the impact of technology on society, adds that ‘‘expert estimates vary widely on how much computer game-playing takes place in offices around the country, but Apreo, which produces a game-blocking program . . . recently claimed that workplace game-playing now costs employers over $50 billion a year.’’
My advice: Play the game wisely. Don’t just pretend — be busy.