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2 Reasons Why You Need To Quit 'Busy Bragging' At Work

The workplace is not an arena for the 'Who's-The-Busiest Olympics.' Here's why venting to your coworkers about your stress isn't always a good idea.

Mark Travers, Ph.D.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | June 12, 2024

Have you ever had a coworker constantly emphasize how busy they are, detailing the endless tasks on their plate or the late hours they work? While it might seem harmless, this behavior can significantly damage workplace relationships over time.

"Stress bragging," also known as busy bragging, refers to regularly boasting about one's busyness or workload to convey a sense of importance, productivity or dedication. While it is completely valid to want to share one's challenges with trusted colleagues, when individuals do so primarily to "appear stressed" and overworked, they tend to glorify struggle and alienate those around them.

The underlying intention is usually to project an image of being indispensable and hardworking, even if the actual effectiveness or results of the work are not necessarily highlighted. Busy bragging can be a subtle way of seeking validation or admiration from colleagues and superiors.

A 2024 study published in the journal Personnel Psychology examined this phenomenon and found that it usually has negative interpersonal consequences in the workplace.

Here are two reasons why busy bragging affects workplace relationships, according to the study.

1. It Makes People Unlikable

Researchers found that busy bragging often backfires as co-workers tend to perceive stress braggarts as less competent, likely due to the perception that they do not know how to manage their time, stress or workload effectively.

If someone is always busy but not producing commensurate results, it can lead to doubts about their productivity. They may be perceived as someone who struggles to prioritize or delegate work and engages in constant complaints and self-promotion.

Researchers found that such individuals are also perceived as less warm and likable. Busy bragging often focuses on an individual's workload and achievements, which can come across as self-centered and arrogant.

By emphasizing their own busyness, such individuals might inadvertently dismiss or minimize their colleagues' efforts and challenges. This can create resentment, particularly if others are working just as hard without seeking recognition. It can also be perceived as a lack of interest or empathy for others, making them seem less warm and approachable.

Additionally, colleagues may find busy bragging annoying, especially if it is frequent and comes across as a bid for sympathy or attention. Over time, they may become desensitized to the stress braggart's complaints and less empathetic to their situation. They might start to believe that the individual is exaggerating and being disingenuous.

Consequently, researchers found that a busy bragger's colleagues are less inclined to offer them help. They might think that the individual's stress is self-inflicted due to inefficiency, making them less sympathetic or worry that their contributions or suggestions will be met with further complaints rather than gratitude.

Colleagues may also feel that their efforts to help will not be reciprocated as a busy bragger is usually focused on their own stress. They may feel that helping won't make a difference because they will always find something new to stress about.

Further, research shows that people find humble colleagues more likable. So, busy bragging becomes counterproductive as it does not help garner support and also compromises the image of themselves that a stress braggart wishes to project.

2. Stress Is Contagious

Researchers found that co-workers on the receiving end of busy bragging tend to feel stressed and are more likely to experience higher levels of burnout.

Research shows that one person's stress can spill over to another person in the same social environment. Firstly, by putting busyness on a pedestal, busy braggers can make others question if they are doing enough.

Secondly, such behavior also sets a precedent that being overloaded is a norm or an expectation and can create a pressure to match that level of busyness. This can fuel a stressful workplace culture where the appearance of being busy is valued more than actual performance and well-being.

Further, if team members feel that busy bragging is being rewarded or admired, it can demotivate those who prefer to work quietly and efficiently without seeking attention, lowering team morale and collaboration.

Additionally, constantly hearing about another person's stress can be exhausting and emotionally draining. Colleagues may distance themselves from busy braggers and avoid helping them to preserve their own mental health and emotional energy.

Habitual busy bragging can erode the overall positive dynamics of a workplace. If you encounter a busy braggart, approach the situation with empathy but do not feel obligated to absorb or resolve their stress. Set boundaries to protect your own well-being. It is important to promote a workplace culture where genuine collaboration and mutual respect are valued over appearances of busyness.

It is also essential to consciously manage how we talk about our workloads and stress, become aware of any inadvertent busy bragging and address the underlying motivations behind it. Self-reflection and mindful communication are key to maintaining healthy workplace relationships and fostering a more positive, efficient and supportive workplace culture.

Busy bragging or being on the receiving end can be accompanied by very real stress. Take this test to gain deeper insight into your current level of well-being: WHO-5 Well-Being Index

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