‘Slow work movement’ gaining traction

Published Jun 20, 2024


Rachel Karl

We live in a world that reveres speed and worships breadth over depth. But a quiet revolution is brewing – and it’s called the “slow work movement”. It’s gaining traction in the business world, especially among those looking for a sustainable path to success.

As our understanding of productivity evolves, more and more people are questioning the notion that faster is better. This shift towards a slower, more deliberate pace of work isn’t just a personal preference, but a strategic move for many innovative companies. This movement aligns closely with the growing emphasis on mental health and wellness in the workplace, and points towards a future where there’s a greater value on quality of work - and life - over mere output.

Re-evaluating efficiency

The old-school idea that being busy means you’re productive comes from way back in the industrial capitalism days, when all that mattered was how much you could churn out and nobody really cared about the toll it took on people.

But this approach doesn’t always translate to success in today’s corporate setting. Companies leading the slow movement are discovering that by reducing the rush, they’re not only enhancing the well-being of their employees, they are also improving their bottom line.

Sustainability strategy

The slow work movement is also intertwined with sustainability. This isn’t just about environmental impact - although that’s certainly a significant part of it - but also about building businesses that are sustainable in the long-term from a human perspective. Companies like Patagonia and Eileen Fisher in the US have long been advocates for sustainable practices - not only in how they source their materials, but also in how they encourage their employees to work.

These companies know that to sustain innovation and passion, they need to allow employees to manage their energy. They need to foster environments that encourage workers to take time off to recharge, pursue side projects or volunteer, which leads to higher overall productivity and loyalty.

Quality over quantity

The slow movement also emphasises quality over quantity - a principle that applies to both manufacturing and service industries.

In manufacturing, this can mean opting to produce goods that are durable and repairable rather than disposable.

In the service sector, it translates into providing thoughtful, personalised services rather than boilerplate solutions. An example is consultancy firms that have shifted from measuring success by billable hours to a focus on the outcomes achieved for clients. This not only results in more satisfied customers, it also enables employees to find greater meaning in their work because they no longer have to rush.

Disconnection benefits

Perhaps one of the most critical aspects of the slow work movement is its challenge to our always-on culture. The expectation for workers to be constantly available, answering emails at all hours and jumping from task to task has been detrimental to both personal well-being and overall job performance.

By establishing boundaries around work hours and encouraging practices such as digital detoxes, companies are recognising that constant connectivity is counterproductive. Employees perform better when they aren’t expected to be online at all times, and when they are actively encouraged to disconnect and recharge when they need it. This recognition is gaining ground as research continues to highlight the benefits of disconnection on mental health and productivity.

Future of work

As we look to the future, it seems like the principles of the slow work movement will define the next wave of work culture. To be clear, this isn’t about working less; it’s about working better. It’s about companies caring for the resources they most depend on - not just their intellectual property or corporate capital, but their human employees.

Leaders who understand the value of this movement are implementing slow principles by redesigning work processes to be more intentional, promoting sustainability in all its forms, and recognising that they need to consider employee well-being in order to have long-term success.

Embracing the slow work movement could be the key to unlocking a healthier, more sustainable and fulfilling path to success. This approach doesn’t just benefit individuals, but can propel entire organisations towards a more prosperous, less stressful future.

  • Karl is a writer, entrepreneur and business coach
  • Article first published by Fast Company US