Suppose, a person executes millions of dollars of government-funded research projects. He is always abnormally busy, and his daily routine is always full to the brim. However, he does these only to keep his tenureship, and gets very little monetary benefit from all these projects. Apart from that, his family life is nonexistent as his wife left him because he could not provide enough time for his wife and children.

In other words, he is only busy for the sake of business.

What would be the appropriate idiom or phrase to describe the situation of this person?

3 Answers 3


He is doing busy work.

Busy work (also referred to as make-work and busywork) can refer to activity that is undertaken to pass time and stay busy but in and of itself has little or no actual value. Busy work occurs in business, military and other settings, in situations where people may be required to be present but may lack the opportunities, skills or need to do something more productive. People may engage in busy work to maintain an appearance of activity, in order to avoid criticism of being inactive or idle — Wikipedia


I would describe such a person as a "workaholic" - someone who is addicted to work.

For the avoidance of plagiarism and breach of copyright, here is a link to a definition:


  • 1
    Nah. A workaholic could be a very productive person- just with no life outside of work.
    – Jim
    Commented Mar 3, 2022 at 13:35
  • I agree that a workaholic would be very productive at work. The question makes reference to "his family life is nonexistent as his wife left him because he could not provide enough time for his wife and children" and I infer from this that the person in question did have a life outside of work and was not devoting sufficient attention to that aspect. The "-aholic" ending with its apparent reference to addiction as in the term "alcoholic" gives the word a negative connotation.
    – Leachoid
    Commented Mar 3, 2022 at 15:04
  • 1
    Right, but OP asks for without any benefit/profit and gives an example of filling his daily routine just to keep a tenureship. I take this to mean one of those people who always seems to be busy but when you stop to think about it you have no idea what they do and can’t name anything they’ve actually accomplished.
    – Jim
    Commented Mar 3, 2022 at 15:08
  • Good point - that sounds like "presenteeism". For the avoidance of plagiarism and breach of copyright, here is a link to a definition: dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/presenteeism
    – Leachoid
    Commented Mar 3, 2022 at 15:33

From The Guardian: Life and Style_ Sarah Jaffe_April 2021:

Laura Hancock [had] ... a job that involved long hours and caused a lot of anxiety. ... At first, the work felt like a privilege, even though she was working a lot and not earning much. “There was a sense that, if you gave it your all and you did it with integrity and love and all those things, then it would eventually work out for you.” But recently she had a moment of realisation. “I can’t afford my rent, I have no savings, I have no partner, I have no family. I’m 38 and most of my friends have families; they’re buying houses,” she says. “There is a lot of grief around that. I feel like I’ve just landed on Earth, like a hard crash on to the ground, and am looking around and feeling quite lonely.” In many sectors, offices have been designed to look, feel and act like a home, to keep employees there for longer. Hancock is one of the many people in recent years to recognise that they have devoted themselves to their work and neglected everything else that might give their life meaning. For workers across many sectors, long, irregular hours, emotional demands and sometimes low rates of pay mean it is increasingly hard to have a life outside of work – and particularly hard to sustain relationships.

The article has the title

Married to the job....

The expression is quite (perhaps worryingly) common. Another example is an article by AgencyCentralUK titled:

5 signs that you're married to your job.

All examples are pejorative, indicating a work-life balance that is far from healthy.

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