My co-workers often ask me "are you busy?" before asking for help or discussing a problem. I find this question hilarious: If you answer yes then you are a bad employee because you are unavailable and can't help the team, if you answer no then you are a bad employee for not having stuff to do.

Usually the answer is "not too busy, what's going on".

What is the best way to communicate that you are working, but have time to help?

  • 2
    So what's the question here?
    – Dan
    May 10 '16 at 16:37
  • 33
    If you are busy, say "Yes". If you are not busy, say "No". May 10 '16 at 16:39
  • 2
    I'm a guy who always finds time for others and answers like you. Guess what happened? Boss decided I get interrupted too much and forbade others asking me anything.
    – Agent_L
    May 10 '16 at 17:14
  • 3
    "Yes, quite busy, but I'd be more than happy to help. Could you shoot me a quick e-mail about the issue first?". Often you can respond via e-mail directly and avoid any undesired human interaction. May 10 '16 at 20:12
  • 2
    The question "Are you busy" in English means "Are you available to talk to me at the moment, or are you too busy to talk to me?" No mystery here.
    – Fattie
    Jul 11 '17 at 15:13

I think you're misunderstanding the intent behind asking if you're busy. I think everyone expects that their colleagues and coworkers have work to do. What they are asking is if it's OK to interrupt you from your work at the moment.

If you aren't working on anything pressing and have time to answer their questions or help them out, the expected answer would be that you aren't busy, implying that you aren't busy at the moment.

If you are on a deadline and don't have time at the moment, you should let them know when you'll be free to answer questions or help them out. If they need help explicitly from you before you are free and it would interfere with you meeting your deadlines, you should direct them to your team lead or manager to sort out conflicts and determine what the right thing to do is.

As a professional, if you truly don't have anything to work on, you should be going to your manager or leader and trying to get more work lined up.


There's a good answer for these types of questions.

"I am right at this moment. Can you come back in about 30 minutes? I'm at a point where stopping would be a setback."

You're telling them to go away without being rude or a bad employee. If it's important, they'll come back. If not, they won't.

  • 2
    This is particularly effective if you have annoying coworkers who ask you fairly easy questions (don't ask me how I know...).
    – enderland
    May 10 '16 at 18:27
  • 4
    It also trains your coworkers. That's pretty important. Many people will do whatever you will put up with. If they keep getting turned away for needless questions, most will stop (or lessen) those questions.
    – Chris E
    May 10 '16 at 18:32
  • At some former employers, peopl have used signs on the entrance to their cube/office that read. "Do Not Disturb. In the Zone."
    – DLS3141
    Jul 11 '17 at 17:33

If I'm busy I just say so, but I don't usually just blow them off, I evaluate what they want and decide whether to prioritise it or not.

If I can't be interrupted for 2 minutes (I have already been interrupted) then:-

"Sorry mate, ask me later I can't leave this."

But normally I'll hear them out while multi tasking:-

"Yep, pretty busy right now, what do you need?"

Then after listening to their needs I'll either set aside what I'm doing temporarily or give them a tentative timeframe of when I can deal with it.

If I'm not busy, I give them my full attention.

If it's someone who just asks because they're bored and they do this all the time.

"That depends on whether there's free food involved."


I have experienced this same issue for the past two years since being promoted to administrator. What I have done is inform those with which I interact the most that I am here to help and they do not need to ask if I am busy. I have relayed the fact that in the event that I was too busy at the moment I would voluntarily indicate this and offer a suggestion for the best means by which to pose their question at that time. For people that contact me less frequently and ask this question I simply say "I have time for you at the moment ". If the same person were to call more frequently I would explain things to them the same way.


Depends on what I am doing and who the person is but my responses tend to be:

Sorry, I am working on an urgent issue right now. I'll message you when I am free.

What can I do for you? (I then evaluate based on what they asked to whether or not I am interruptible at that point.) If I can help them right away, then I do so or I set a time when I can get back to them or send them to someone else.

Just a minute, let me finish my sentence. (If I am in the middle of writing an email).

Point to phone and mouth (but don't say aloud) "On a conference call. Is it urgent?"

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