Is Working Slow Slowly Working?

What is slow work
‘Slow Work’ is all about redefining the way in which people approach things like productivity and multitasking.
December 7, 2022
Flexible Working
Future of Work

It probably won’t surprise you to hear that workplace burnout is on the rise. It’s not a new phenomenon, but it’s certainly one that’s been exacerbated of late. We’ve seen the pandemic blur the lines of work and home, a social media-fuelled boom in ‘hustle culture’ and (until now) an increasingly volatile job market. The Adecco Group's Global Workforce of the Future report revealed the true extent of the problem.

This is where ‘Slow Work’ comes in. The antithesis of hustle culture, ‘Slow Work’ is all about redefining the way in which people approach things like productivity and multitasking. Instead of wearing busyness as a badge of pride, there is now a growing movement shunning this in the hope of instead focusing on more sustainable ways of working. 

Despite its recent rise to prominence, the term was actually coined by Canadian journalist Carl Honoré almost two decades ago in his 2004 book In Praise of Slowness. Unsurprisingly the idea didn’t gain too much traction at the time. However, now its proponents can be found everywhere, from Gen Z-focused Tik Tok to the esteemed pages of The New Yorker.

Slowing down the work day

Proponents of Slow Work say that the traditional commute (especially when being done five days a week) is counterproductive. Not only can the stresses of traffic or public transport impact wellbeing, but they can also eat into working hours – causing more work to be squeezed into less time.

It’s not just about where, but also how you work. The movement advocates for a quality over quantity approach, moving away from the idea that a busy day spent juggling tasks is the most productive way to spend your time. Instead, it suggests that the best way for workers to thrive – something that is beneficial for both the individual and the company – is to allow people the headspace to focus on a single task and the time to do it to the best of their ability. 

What would the boss think?

Interestingly, Slow Work doesn’t only have the potential to reduce the burden on workers. Job stress is estimated to cost American companies more than $300 billion a year, so aside from improving the wellbeing of employees (which all businesses should strive for) it can have a financial impact, too. 

Further benefits can also be seen when it comes to talent recruitment – which has become significantly harder during The Great Resignation. With workers in-high demand, having a workplace culture that focuses on employee wellbeing is a sure-fire way of giving your business the best chance of attracting (and retaining) the strongest candidates. 

The same can be said for working arrangements too, with a recent Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) survey suggesting that 87% of people would now like some degree of flexibility – rising to 92% in younger generations. As a result, adopting Slow Work’s approach to flexible working can help your business recruit talent and be ahead of the curve in attracting the graduates of tomorrow.

Beyond the workplace

Gone are the days in which you could just leave your work at the office. As a result, Slow Work’s holistic approach to workplace headspace is also extended to time when not spent working. The movement encourages people to have clear boundaries between their job and leisure, meaning no emails after hours or expectations to work during holidays. Keeping a strict line between the two helps to avoid the ‘always on’ mentality that can be a huge factor in causing burnout.

So, the Slow Work movement is a multi-faceted idea that little-by-little hopes to alleviate some of the bad habits picked up in the digital age. Whether it has practical uses or can be applied in certain industries remains to be seen. However, its rise to prominence is at the very least promoting a healthy conversation about how people would like to live and work. Considering the levels of burnout mentioned at the beginning of this piece, that can only be a positive thing.