HomeEmployee ExperienceRedefining work: How the anti-work movement challenges on workplace norms and what it means for job flexibility

Redefining work: How the anti-work movement challenges on workplace norms and what it means for job flexibility

  • 7 Min Read

The reluctance of businesses to embrace flexibility as a retention and diversity driver is mystifying. The anti-work movement, along with related trends like “Quiet Quitting” and “Lazy Girl Jobs,” predicates continued resistance from employees and suggests that businesses should rethink their stances against flexibility.

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Traci Chernoff headshot for article on anti-work movement

At first, one might hear “anti-work” and think people don’t want to work anymore. While that might be the case in very few instances, the anti-work movement is solely focused on challenging workplace norms that are toxic and unsustainable.

So many factors have influenced the anti-work movement, from the Pandemic to technological advancements. The Pandemic changed the way people viewed their lives holistically and technological advancements have changed the way we interact with the world around us. Relative to the anti-work movement, employees have taken these experiences in stride to raise the expectations they’ve set for their leaders and employers.

Over the last few years, flexibility has become a major point of discussion regarding retaining and engaging top talent and improving business outcomes. And while there are employers out there who argue the opposite, employees continue to demand access to these new ways of working.

Anti-work, flexibility and frontline workers

I believe companies are doing themselves and their teams a disservice in requiring employees to fully return to the office. Flexibility is very personal and can mean something different to everyone. One person might see flexibility as being fully remote and another person might see it as simply having the option to go into the office.

This is especially important for those who often are not afforded flexibility: frontline workers. These jobs are already incredibly vulnerable because they’re often minimum or lower-wage jobs that can leave employees with a need to secure second or third jobs just to make ends meet; for these employees, flexibility is life-changing. Retail, one of the largest employers of frontline workers, next to Food & Beverage and Hospitality, sees turnover as high as 60% annually.

Frontline employees were the first to question their workplaces at the advent of the anti-work movement trend over the last few years and remain the most vulnerable group of workers because of their demands for flexibility, improved environments, and predictable schedules.

HR and other business leaders need to take flexibility seriously. This means we must explain why our organizations cannot deprioritize flexibility. We need to articulate both employee demands and business needs. The best way to do this is by explaining that flexibility is not the antithesis of meeting business needs. Plus, it’s critical to communicate that flexibility is just as much matching employee preferences and demands as it is providing predictable scheduling for frontline workers. In corporate settings, flexibility could be anything from remote work to access to coworking facilities. It’s our responsibility to help paint an accurate picture of what flexibility looks like and why it is the driving force behind employee engagement today.

‘Lazy Girl Jobs’, ‘Quiet Quitting’: Why we must take viral clickbait seriously

Recently, the “Lazy Girl Jobs” trend was the latest phrase to go viral. If you don’t know what this trend is, it’s not exactly what you might think based on the name alone. As I shared in the recent episode on my podcast, Lazy Girl Jobs” – A Problematic Phrase With a Valid Point”, the name of the trend does more harm than good and is a marketing ploy for clicks. But the meaning behind the trend is fantastic. It questions hustle culture and encourages people to reconsider both their needs and the expectations they’ve set for their employers.

If we can look past the click-bait name and understand that the point is to inform individuals that they can have flexibility and work-life balance, we can better understand why the anti-work movement is so impactful.

This trend works in tandem with the anti-work movement because it seeks to live as the antithesis of what the workplace has praised for decades: That we should live to work and that balance doesn’t enable growth.

When it comes to navigating trends like “Lazy Girl Jobs,” start with figuring out how to accomplish work-life balance. In some instances or industries where this might be more difficult, the question is how to ensure employees feel they’re contributing value to an organization and receiving a return on their investment. Employees no longer want to dedicate every hour of their day to working just to work. They want to receive just as much of an investment from their employers as their employers receive from their contributions.

Companies that de-prioritize flexibility will be the biggest anti-work losers

When businesses abandon the flexibility they have afforded their employees for the last few years, they ask their teams to question whether or not they see a future with their company. Businesses like Goldman Sachs, Amazon, Apple, JPMorgan, and Tesla have abandoned their hybrid or remote-first policies and have begun requiring partial or full returns to office for employees, while many other businesses have moved to permanent hybrid models. All this despite being some of the companies that benefited most during the Pandemic. Of course, these employers can change their policies as they see fit, but I argue that companies who place flexibility at the bottom of their priorities list are going to come out at the bottom.

This is not only because they’ll lose the war on talent, but also because they will be negatively impacting their diversity efforts in attracting and retaining female talent. As shared in a recent study by Deloitte, “Women @ Work 2023: A Global Outlook”, inflexibility at work is the primary reason why women are considering leaving their employers.

Moreover, the argument for improved productivity in the office is weak, especially considering how much of a profit these companies drove while their employees had maximum flexibility working remotely. In a society where employees can successfully work remotely without businesses sacrificing their profits, why wouldn’t businesses lean on flexibility as a retention and diversity driver? Is returning to the office worth losing all that we’ve gained?

The healthy, ongoing challenge of the anti-work movement

It’s up to us as HR leaders to work with our colleagues and employees to find a solid, middle ground. The anti-work movement will continue to challenge employers and their demands of employees and the sooner we can match employer demands and employee preferences, the sooner we can harmonize this relationship. We already know that active listening when it comes to hearing our employees’ concerns is the first step in understanding how we can solve challenges, like lack of engagement or retention. When we can help our colleagues hear what employees are seeking and why the anti-work movement has become so popular, we can then begin to incorporate methods that enable employees to feel committed, engaged, and satisfied at work.

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Traci Chernoff is the Host and Creator of the podcast,“Bringing the Human back to Human Resources” where she destigmatizes HR by uniting employee demands and business needs while simultaneously challenging the perceptions and stigmas surrounding HR. When she isn’t podcasting, she works as the Senior Director of Employee Engagement at Legion Technologies and is an experienced HR leader. Prior to joining Legion, Traci spent nearly a decade in key HR leadership roles for both Big-Box and Luxury retailers directly supporting retail management and hourly teams across North America. Traci has a Master’s from Rutgers University in Public Administration and a B.A. from Binghamton University in English Rhetoric. You can always count on Traci to challenge the status quo and refocus discussions so they’re human-centric.

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