The pandemic hit the reset button on peoples’ lives, leading to shifts in how we work, parent, live, and express ourselves. During the pandemic, a lack of work-life balance and support for parents, combined with uncertainty and isolation drove many to burnout and a re-evaluation of priorities. At the same time, there was a greater focus on wellness and mental health as people looked for ways to cope with what was happening around them.
Now we are seeing shifts in culture toward a more relaxed approach to life in support of better balance and mental health — people are more comfortable saying that they deserve rest, or a lazy moment.
In professional life, there’s been a rethinking of the pre-pandemic “Hustle Culture” obsession with efficiency, in favor of work-life balance and mental health. Millennials are deprioritizing meaningful work in favor of work that can be contained. In 2019, 63% agreed they “wanted a job that’s meaningful even if it means thinking about job duties outside of regular work hours”; the number was down to 47% in 2022 (Gartner, “Leaning Out”). When we look at what people are doing with their time instead, 71% of consumers cite “improved well-being” as one of the most impactful reasons they spend time on non-work activities (Gartner). Since the pandemic, people report a greater focus on managing mental health, such as exercising more, spending more time on hobbies/activities they enjoy, spending less time on social media, and being more conscious about social activities (WARC 2023 Consumer Trends Report).
In parenting, there’s been a shift away from the overscheduled and high-achievement-oriented “Helicopter Parenting” in favor of an approach that is more democratic, allowing kids to be more self-directed and autonomous. “It’s not like: tennis lesson, music lesson, art lesson. It’s a backlash…Instead of hyper-directing their kids, many researchers believe there’s a focus among today’s millennial parents on a democratic approach to family management — constantly canvassing their children for their opinions” (Time). There’s also been a greater focus on kids’ mental health, and the approach of “gentle parenting,” which focuses on making kids more self-aware.
As we’ve returned to our social lives, greater flexibility has become the norm. As things were starting to open back up, last-minute positive tests meant that people had to relax the traditional etiquette and get used to last-minute cancellations. “COVID has made those prone to breaking plans feel less guilty about bailing last-minute,” says Mahzad Hojjat, professor of social psychology at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, who studies social connections and friendships (Wall Street Journal). “You always have those friends who come late, who don’t show up as frequently, or don’t really enjoy being part of a group; those people are now given more of a pass” (WSJ). While many were familiar with the term FOMO, now we have JOMO, the “joy of missing out,” where people push back on overscheduling themselves so that they can recharge and face life with more energy.
Social media, influenced by the popularity of TikTok, has begun to shift away from the traditionally high-effort, picture-perfect standard of Instagram made popular by influencers, to an aesthetic that is rawer and more unfiltered. “If Instagram is the airbrushed influencer, TikTok is the friend you talk trash with at the end of the day. TikTokers face the camera in bathrobes and hair bonnets while sitting in their cars or standing before their bathroom mirror. A common convention is for people to film themselves while tucked into bed” (Los Angeles Times). Even the traditionally polished platform, Instagram, now has “casual Instagram,” where people post “photo dumps,” or collections of photos that tell a story in a way that appears more thrown-together, low-effort, and unedited.
The most amusing manifestation of this more “relaxed” mindset in social media is “Goblin Mode,” which speaks to being “unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, or slovenly” (usually in a humorous tongue-in-cheek way — think sweatpants and takeout with a dash of self-care. The term was voted the top new word in the Oxford English Dictionary for 2022, meant to speak to the spirit of the year. The president of Oxford Languages, Casper Grathwohl, said, “Given the year we’ve just experienced, ‘goblin mode’ resonates with all of us who are feeling a little overwhelmed at this point” (The Guardian). He added, “It’s a relief to acknowledge that we’re not always the idealised, curated selves that we’re encouraged to present on our Instagram and TikTok feeds. This has been demonstrated by the dramatic rise of platforms like BeReal where users share images of their unedited selves, often capturing self-indulgent moments in goblin mode”(The Guardian).
At RPA, we have our finger on the pulse of culture as part of our strategic-planning practice. It’s a way to be in touch with how people are feeling in a changing world, uncover new opportunities, and create work that resonates. When we’re able to identify a relevant inflection point in culture, such as this shift to a more relaxed approach to life (“Long Live the Lazy”), we can create work that is even more effective, that catches peoples’ attention, sticks in their memories because it’s different from the category (a psychological theory called the Von Restorff effect), and forges an emotional connection through a feeling of shared experience and point of view. Creating ideas that people want to talk about helps build fame. We want people to see this campaign and say, “This brand gets me.” Let’s have a conversation about how we can do this for you.