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What Brands Can Learn from People Who… Want to Work Less

In the second in this series, BMB head of strategy Mel Arrow writes about the generational shift in ambition and success we’re going through

What Brands Can Learn from People Who… Want to Work Less


We’re all TWATs now, apparently. Perhaps some of us have been TWATs for a while, but certainly lots more of us are TWATs post-pandemic. That is, people who only go into the office on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, of course. The pandemic has changed lots of things (everything?) but perhaps nothing comes close to the revolution it has created in the world of work. There’s new styles, modes and working habits emerging everywhere, but bubbling underneath the hybrid models is a more fundamental question: have we fallen out of love with the concept of work entirely?

Scotland is trialling a four day working week, backed by 8/10 Scots, more people are resigning, switching industries or changing life plans than ever before, a swathe of employers are giving their staff additional time off for their mental health...Is this our anti-capitalist awakening? Has our mental and physical health suddenly become our overriding priority? Or is it just hard to work when the world is collapsing? Whatever the reason, we’re stripping back the status quo, renegotiating our relationship with work and questioning some pretty fundamental things. Not least; why the hell are we compelled to work so hard?

Pre-pandemic, you could argue that stress had become the indicator of hard work. Stress and its bed fellow ‘chronic busyness’, became a currency, something to show off about, something to broadcast around the office. It’s this that led to a massive rise in global cases of burnout, and the UN including it in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) in 2019 as an ‘occupational phenomenon’. The New Yorker deems stress and burnout to be part of “the dangers of a post-industrial economy in which both the work available and our ambitions have become effectively infinite”. But most interestingly, in knowledge economies like marketing, often the stress is created by ourselves. 

Or as Radiohead would say; you do it to yourself, and that’s what really hurts. 

It’s estimated that people in industries like marketing work 20% more than they need to, due to a mixture of ambition and more fundamentally, our autonomy over our own workload, with no supervisors or direct measured and controlled outputs. Essentially, you can work as much as you want. And the problem with this truth is that, even if the whole country switches to a four day week, and even if remote working is here to stay, the pressures of work in industries like marketing will only be mitigated if we learn to treat ourselves better: “​​If we want our workplaces to become more productive and more humane, we’ll have to figure out how to circumvent the extra 20% that we pile on ourselves.”

Ouch. 

So, what does all of this mean for brands? There is very clearly a fundamental, once-in-a-generation shift happening in our society in how we view success and ambition. Unless you want your brand to stand out like a sore, burn-out thumb, you better make sure that the way you project images of success in marketing and comms is on the right side of this shift. Car brands, perfume brands, luxury brands, workplace search engines…there are plenty of brands that leverage society’s idea of success as a strategy for selling their products and services. So, to these brands, I say; beware of tired clichés. Success does not necessarily wear a suit, get up at 6am, smash every meeting, start up a business, get a promotion and achieve big. Success can just as easily be about well-being, it can be about inner-peace or choosing health and family. But that doesn’t mean it has to be low-key or boring. Self-care can be OTT, hilarious, lavish, or as Raven Smith put it in Vogue: “I’m happy with a vegan option, but for God’s sake, truffle my hummus. I want the threat of gout or I’m staying home.”

Secondly, it’s more important than ever that brands invest as much attention in their employer branding as their consumer branding. In a world where employees are dropping out of the workforce, changing their career paths, and scrutinising the relationships they have with their workplaces more than ever, brands need to ensure that they are flexible, progressive, authentic and appealing employers to prevent a brain drain. They need strategies to mitigate employer branding disasters (looking at you, Brewdog) and have a consistent idea of who they are and what they mean to their employees in this changed landscape. Only the strongest employer brands will win. There’s no bumbling through this change of epoch. 

So, in short, what can brands learn from people who want to work less? A new perspective on success and the importance of having an employer brand to match your consumer brand.





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