Get as “busy” as possible, it’s the new status symbol!

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By Sabrina Almeida

Overwhelmed with work? Here’s a bit of news that could get that adrenaline flowing, even help you work harder…

Busyness is the new status symbol in North America!

So, if you’ve been envying all those vacations, golf and spa days that friends have been indulging in while you slave away at your computer for hours and through the weekend… it should be the other way around. Meaning, its them that should be in awe of you.

According to a recent study on conspicuous consumption in the Journal of Consumer Research, for Americans (and by extension Canadians too I suppose) a busy lifestyle is now representative of a higher social status than leisure time. Unbelievable, isn’t it? Parental advice about always working hard has paid off after all. In the social hierarchy at least, if not on your paycheck.

Authors Silvia Bellezza (Columbia University), Neeru Paharia, and Anat Keinan (both of Harvard University) conducted a series of tests to determine how busyness impacted social perceptions and status. One of these involved participants rating Facebook posts of perceived people. It turns out that comments about “working non-stop” and having little leisure time were equated with the individual being in ‘high demand’ and therefore higher up the social ladder, in the eyes of the raters.

What has led to this shift in perception? The study’s authors say it’s the transition to a ‘knowledge-intensive’ economy. Simplifying this new intellectual phenomenon—competence and ambition are much-sought-after leading to a higher demand for individuals with these traits, while the short supply causes them to be engaged in work all the time. As a result, the scarcity and preciousness of goods has been replaced by that of people.

What happened to wealth being a yardstick for measuring social standing? According to one school of thought, perceptions may have altered but only slightly. Working overtime and the perception of being “much sought after” is a measure of your value. If you are so much in demand, then you must be well paid too! Something to do with the ‘time is money’ philosophy harkening back to the Industrial Revolution.

So, to impress anyone with your new social status, humbly state how bogged down you are with work on Facebook, Twitter or whatever social media platform you may use. Replace vacation pictures with those of files piled high on your desk instead… When people call you, gently let them know you have only 2 minutes to talk because of back-to-back meetings. Post your overcrowded work schedule on social media not your party dates.

And if you get more likes than comments about how you should take it easy or discreet offers of financial help, then you’ve really moved up.
A word of caution—your friends from other countries may not be as favourably disposed to your ‘work’ status. To them working all the time or having more than one job might still come off as being in financial trouble.

Study participants from Italy, for instance, reacted very differently. For them taking time off meant you were rich and could afford to do so. Contrast this to the belief among Americans (and Canadians too perhaps) that not working means you must be unemployable!

This has been my personal experience in Canada. During my long work break to be a full-time mom for 11 years, many near and dear ones felt that I should find a job. “Contribute to the household money pot” and “put my education to use” … was some ‘good advice’ I received. Unlike the Italian participants (and many in my home country) they didn’t equate my life of leisure with having the means to do so.

If you are planning to climb the social rungs powered by ‘busyness’ ratings, let me also point out one big mistake to avoid. Filling your calendar with social activities or meetings with the who’s who won’t get you the aspirational busy status. It must be work and only work. Invented or real, workaholism is the way up the ladder of envy!

If there is someone you’ve been waiting to stick it to, just tell them how important or in demand you are at work!

Make that phone ring with business calls, check work not social status in the company of friends.

Really work up that envy!

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