An Effective Way of Looking Busy At Work

“What are you doing? Read research on your way to work in the mornings or when you go home in the evenings. Or on the weekend. I don’t want you wasting your fucking time on bullshit on the job. Right now you should be doing something to help the team get a mandate so we can get paid. Otherwise I can’t fight for you to get a good bonus. Prepare a new slide for a market update rather than recycling the same shit we use over and over, go speak to the traders, call a client, think of new business…you should always be doing something to help the team make more money. If you continue like this I can’t protect you next time there are layoffs.”

– My line manager

I cannot tell you the number of times I was showered with some variation of the above statement from a guy who, though he was barely more senior than me, I had to report to because of our team structure.  It didn’t matter how hard I worked that week, how late I stayed at the office the night before. The guy made me feel like I never did enough. There must have been deep-seated reasons for him to so often act like a supreme, world-class low-life, I assured myself. Why else would you speak to someone, who had renounced all social activities in the name of the job, in such a manner?

The remarkable thing was that, and without trying to sound arrogant – I mean it, I was much more capable and had a stronger skillset for the job. I carried out many tasks better than he such as communicating effectively with various people within and without of the organisation; putting together presentations; creating Excel models; analyzing info & data; etc. And, whereas he was despised by many people in the bank, I had plenty of friends within and had a good relationship with several very senior bankers he sucked up to on a day-to-day basis to no success. In reality, I was an asset to him and rather than play it to his advantage by being human he lost out.

Over time I came to pick up on clues which signalled to me that he was in a bad mood and likely to give me shit. Soon after, I devised what became a lifeline for me in tough times. The solution was simple: 1) look busy and 2) don’t stay around the desk too long.

As time progressed, a strategy evolved which me and a few buddies dubbed the RALBY, short for Run And Look Busy. It became a life saver during my early days at the bank.



Items needed:

– Notepad
– Printouts with charts, graphs, diagrams, etc. on them
– A mobile phone

  1. Take the notepad and place the printouts on top; make sure the charts are facing up so people can see them
  2. Hold the phone up to your ear and start running (not too fast) and wear a face that screams ‘determination’, ‘important’, ‘running late’

Optional: pretend to chat on your mobile device as you run – make sure the phone is on silent.

Example phrases you can use while you RALBY, especially when you’re about to pass one or more people:

“No, we need it ASAP. Just tell him to get it done right away.”
“That’s what the client asked for so let’s do what he says.”
“Whatever it takes just get it done and let’s get the mandate.”


When I felt a storm brewing, I’d do a RALBY and meet a friend outside or in the cafeteria. Later, when I would return to the desk I’d get a call from a friend a few rows down where I sat.

“Oscar performance.”

A short while later I’d catch him jogging across the floor with that same  hurried look on his face and a phone up against his ear. I’d smile and nod.  You never looked at someone the same afterwards, when they ran across the floor. Am I witnessing a RALBY?

The first rule of RALBY is that you do not talk about RALBY. The second rule…

Everything in moderation

One had to use RALBY both in moderation and in a manner which did not raise suspicion. Consequently, we limited it to twice in any one day – unless of course it was matter of life and death. Also, we wouldn’t run in the same direction all the time. We’d switch it up and head towards different doors available on the floor. Sometimes, for pure effect, we’d come to a sudden halt halfway, turn around, head back to the desk, pick up a paper – strategically placed on the desk ahead of time – and head out again.

One important lesson we learned was that you should never get lazy.  Just because I was out of my line manager’s sight did not mean, other senior members of our division were not around. As soon as we’d hit a quiet corner, our pace would turn into a leisurely stroll but when re-entering highly trafficked areas, for instance the trading floor, we’d pick up the pace again. You never knew if someone in the team was also away from the desk too. Point is, you had to be alert.

Reasons for using RALBY

In no particular order:

  • Get away from a pissed-off line manager
  • Meet by the water / tea / coffee machine and have relaxing conversations with friends to keep your sanity
  • Explore different floors and part of the building
  • Step out of the building and get some fresh air – a rare commodity for investment bankers

Externality of RALBY

An externality is a cost or benefit resulting from an action taken. With regards to RALBY one positive externality was that, in addition to getting away from the desk, people would also notice how ‘busy’ you were. Bonus points!

I’d occasionally meet new people in the bank who’d say to me after I was introduced to them:

New acquaintance: “You always look very busy. I see you running to meetings all the time.”
Me: “Big time. My team is short-staffed and we deal with lots of difficult clients in emerging markets.”


I raise my glass to all of you who have used different versions of Ralby across the globe, in different sectors, in different capacities.

6 thoughts on “An Effective Way of Looking Busy At Work

  1. BBpitch says:

    you are my hero. I wish I could become a RALBY too.
    And, based on your calssification I am a banker for “alignment of the stars” + “Tour of duty”

  2. harvey says:

    i’m not in IB, but that sounds like me and my LM, in the industry i’m in.
    I like the RALBY trick, something i’ll remember when having to deal with boring/incompetent people.

  3. Nicholas Totti says:

    We used to call it meeting with Mr Halbish. Hurry Around Look Busy-ish.
    Same deal, notepad, can’t talk now, if ever asked a question the answer is “look, I’ve got a lot on right now, can you email that question to me?”

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