What Is Frugality in the Workforce? – Guide to New Work-Life Trend

In a post-pandemic era shrouded by the mystery of new ways of working and living, we continue to find ourselves delving into various new terms. Just last week we took the long and effort-full time to navigate and define Quiet Quitting, a new movement within the modern workforce. Before we could even hit post on the article, a new trend was already being discussed in whispers amongst employers and employees alike: Frugality. So, in our best effort to keep both ourselves and our audience up-to-date with workforce terminology, we began diving into research.

In its most simplistic form, frugality is the act of lowering personal expenses. It’s not a new word, often used to describe those with a keen eye for saving money through thrifty or minimalist ventures. For example, look at the drastic increase in thrift shopping since 2020. Consequently, people have been battling inflation with austere spending since the financial crash in 2008. Frugality isn’t a new concept.

Frugality in regards to work-life balance is a fairly new idea, though. Ultimately, it means that an employee lowers their living expenses so they can lower their time at work. If their life costs less money, they don’t need to clock in 40 hours or work a high-paying job.

What is the basis of frugality? Where is it going? What can you, as an employer, do about it?

Let’s get into it.

It All Started With a Pandemic

To truly understand both frugality and the intriguing (and confusing) nature of the modern workforce, we must start our story in 2019.

Stating that the COVID-19 pandemic was life-changing would be an understatement. The pandemic not only rocked an entire planet with tragedy and loss, but it modified the way that we will do things going forward. Consequently, we can only speak for the United States in this regard (as a company in America), but it doesn’t take much inferring to see the global impact.

As far as employers and employees go, the pandemic had a massive shift in how we do things and how we view things. For example, NorthOne reported that we have seen a 91% uptick in remote work over the last decade. There is a mass majority of jobs located remotely, a pandemic-caused trend. The differences that remote-only jobs cause is an entire article in itself. That’s just one example.

The biggest cultural change in the workforce is that of the Great Resignation. Ultimately, a life-threatening pandemic caused workers to reevaluate both their work-life balance and their work happiness. This renaissance of sorts led to a plethora of employees deciding to take up more enjoyable careers or fight for more work-life balance. It was more than just a phase. According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, 47.8 million U.S. workers quit their jobs in 2021.

In the Bowels of Reddit

While the Great Resignation has seen an endless amount of workers reevaluate their worth as employees, there is another side to the coin. As those participating in the enlightenment caused by the Great Resignation have been quitting their jobs for more beneficial or fulfilling careers, there has been a more drastic side brewing. As with any great cultural shift, there will always be a drastic and extremist side to the originating idea.

Welcome in r/AntiWork.

If employees asking for higher wages, mental health support, and more interesting tasks were seen as extreme during the Great Resignation, then those participating in the Anti-Work movement would be seen as otherworldly.

The subreddit of the same name had been around since 2013 but found a mass shift in popularity during the peak of the Great Resignation. The forum gained over 1.7 million subscribers by the end of 2021 and had a prominent impact on the Kellogg strike.

While the majority of workers were asking for better work lives, a subsection was asking for no work at all.

What Is Anti-Work?

The Anti-Work movement did not begin in the post-pandemic world. In fact, the core idea was established as far back as ancient Greece.

Friedrich Nietzsche, an extraordinarily famous 1800’s philosopher, was an avid backer of anti-work. The aforementioned Reddit group often found inspiration in his theories and quotes.

On the topic, Nietzsche wrote:

Those who commend work. – In the glorification of ‘work’, in the unwearied talk of the ‘blessing of work’, I see the same covert idea as in the praise of useful impersonal actions: that of fear of everything individual. Fundamentally, one now feels at the sight of work – one always means by work that hard industriousness from early till late – that such work is the best policeman, that it keeps everyone in bounds and can mightily hinder the development of reason, covetousness, desire for independence. For it uses up an extraordinary amount of nervous energy, which is thus denied to reflection, brooding, dreaming, worrying, loving, hating; it sets a small goal always in sight and guarantees easy and regular satisfactions. Thus a society in which there is continual hard work will have more security: and security is now worshipped as the supreme divinity. – And now! Horror! Precisely the ‘worker’ has become dangerous! The place is swarming with ‘dangerous individuals’! And behind them the danger of dangers – the individual!”

― Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality

Too much to read? Basically work is bad and being a free individual is good. Labor is considered both meaningless and in the way of full self-realization and potential of the human individual.

Furthermore, living without work in the capitalist society of the United States is pretty much impossible. Regardless, the thought and ideas behind the movement continue to remain prominent in a subsector of citizens. r/AntiWork has gotten past 2 million subscribers as of 2022.

What Does This All Have to Do With Frugality?

Valid question.

Ultimately, it’s important to understand both the Great Resignation and the rise of Anti-Work because frugality falls somewhere in the middle. To understand frugality, you have to understand the current work climate.

Regardless, we are done beating around the definitive bush. Let’s finally get into it.

What Really Is Frugality?

Despite the term being popular for decades, it was recently coined by Bloomberg regarding work-life balance.

Fundamentally, workers are spending less money so they can work fewer hours.

As an example, Bloomberg spoke to Marie Crespin, a 31-year-old HR worker in Nantes, France. She now makes 1,600 euros ($1,608) a month, while she used to make 2,300 euros. To combat this, Crespin has spent significantly less money on take-out and clothes. Now, she works 20 hours instead of 40.

“Work shouldn’t be the most important thing in your life,” Crespin told Bloomberg reporter, Alice Kantor. “Having the freedom to do what you want with your time is today’s true luxury.”

July survey by FlexJobs found that 44% of workers surveyed would take a pay cut to improve their work-life balance.

Simply put: people are willing to make less and spend less to enjoy more time outside of work. Materialism has fallen by the wayside, while quality time with themselves and their family has risen. Humans desiring more time with life and significant others is a natural and understandable response to a two-year-long life-threatening excursion.

The Trend Lies Amongst the Youth

Overall, the main amount of those that believe in work frugality is within Generation Z. A recent study by education nonprofit Murmuration and the Walton Family Foundation found that 61% of 15- to 25-year-olds value harmony between work and home life. Meanwhile, only 42% prefer earning more money.

Can you blame them? A generation raised on the back of a huge housing market crash and exponential inflation doesn’t care about wealth? Color me surprised.

Gen Z can barely afford college and healthcare. Meanwhile, the prices of housing are only elevating. The old days of land and home being the endgame of life is out the window. Gen Z has never been able to see affording homes and property as a reachable goal, and it isn’t getting better. With an average minimum wage of $7.25 per hour and the price of a gallon of gas reaching right behind it, don’t expect the youth to value material objects with intensity.

Frugality Isn’t Just for Work-Life Balances

While the majority of frugal workers are acting in the shift to improve their day-to-day life, some have ulterior motives.

Some workers are attempting to lower their time at work to help improve their carbon footprint. With climate crisis becoming an increasing-important topic, some believe working less can not only reduce their transportation footprint but give them time to help out.

Bloomberg spoke to Nikita Crocker, a 32-year-old former nanny, who depleted the majority of her expenses so that she could spend more time volunteering for climate-related activities. She and her husband spend less than £500 on food monthly and £1,200 on rent. Their frugal living allows them to survive off of one salary, relying on the husband’s primary-school teacher salary of £50,000.

It’s not as if the husband’s salary is piling into riches, too. The £50,000 a year converts to $58,000, a fairly common wage in the states. The average salary in the US stands at $56,310. The average household income stands at $64,994. Therefore, Crocker and her husband are surviving off of less than the average household income for a two-person family in the states.

Oh yeah. They also have two small children. A 2015 study by USDA found that it costs around $233,610 to raise two children from birth to age 17 in a middle-income family with two parents.

Therefore, the Crockers are doing an exponential amount of saving and frugal acts.

What About Quiet Quitting?

We also have to point out the other new term ravaging the workplace. Quiet quitting is a bit like frugality but doesn’t revolve around the idea of working fewer hours. Instead, those quiet quitting are working less, in general.

We defined quiet quitting in our recent article:

Fundamentally, quiet quitting starts with being forced to work. As a species, we have established work as a necessity for societal amalgamation and usefulness. Obviously, the reason for working can differ depending on the economical basis of governments, but it all boils back down to the point of usefulness. You work because you have to. You have to make money, survive, provide for your society and provide for yourself.

When a concept is forced upon someone, effort depends entirely upon human emotion towards said concept. If a worker hates their job but has to work to survive, expect the bare minimum. Expect the amount of effort necessary to continue working, not to continue thriving in the work environment. If a promotion is out of reach or unwanted, the worker does not need to provide more effort than necessary to maintain the current job.

Two Sides of the Same Coin

In a way, both quiet quitting and frugality mean the same thing: work is not the center focus of human life anymore. The younger generation is willing to slack and/or reduce their income to avoid the life-sucking aspect of a daily 9-5.

All in all, working with these new trends as employers results in the same solutions.

As a person or company with a workforce, seeing these anti-work trends can cause a bit of panic. Ultimately, you need a staff of exceptional workers to thrive, and the concept of losing them can be disheartening.

How do you combat these anti-work trends?

Well, you kinda can’t.

While quiet quitting may involve a lack of dedication from the employee, frugality isn’t a fallacy in the worker-workplace relationship. By design, the worker is not unhappy with their place of employment, but unhappy with work itself. Therefore, the employer cannot do anything to persuade them to stay full-time.

Henceforth, if an employee decides to go part-time due to frugality, you can either approve it or not. Convincing them to stay or pick up engagement is possible if they are disinterested in the job, but that is not the case. If you approve of them working a smaller schedule, that is your choice. Consequently, you would need to hire another person to fill in the rest of the 40 hours. Overall, you may end up with two part-time employees instead of one full-time.

Of course, this concept can be expensive for employers. In that case, you may decide that it’s in your best interest to find a full-time employee elsewhere instead of bending to the new schedule of the established worker. Though it may seem harsh, this is your choice to make. While we stand by the Great Resignation and workers finding work-life balance, they are deciding to work less. If the employer denies this, that’s the risk the worker takes. Luckily, they will be able to find schedule-fitting work elsewhere.

Listening and Adapting Is Key

Despite stating that it’s your choice as an employer to adapt to new trends, it’s important to note that the future is likely to look different than the working world we left in 2019.

Ultimately, you may want to look into adapting to these new ways of thinking as a workplace. It’s entirely possible (and likely) that these work-life concepts continue moving forward (rightfully so).

The most important example of employee retention strategies is fluidity. Allow your employees to speak and take their word to heart.

We are all different. Your workforce will continue to change and adapt. You will lose employees for reasons outside of your control. The best way to approach these fluctuations is to have an open mind and an itching ear. Be open and ready to adapt.

Requiring employees to bend and break by your rules is a quick way to run them out or reduce their enthusiasm. As an employer, you need to keep an open mind to the way things are going, frugality included.

2023 and Beyond!

Update: the future of frugality may continue throughout the next year.

While it’s impossible to dictate just where work culture will go, it’s important to look at the past before predicting the future. We are not soothsayers, but we do believe that 2023 will see a large influx of trends similar to frugality (if not just the strengthening of frugality itself).

Studies toward the end of 2023 only improved our predictions. If the Great Resignation is considered a movement, then the motion caused permanent changes in the workplace. It’s no longer just a fad, but a permanent solution to employee problems. Companies are now aware of the need for workplace health and well-being and are striving to improve them.

A 2022 study by the U.S. Surgeon General found that  71% of employees believe their employer is more concerned about their mental health and well-being than ever before. Fortunately, this is not just blind optimism. Just by Googling frugality, you can see a plethora of companies announcing moves toward more mental-health-friendly workplaces and motives.

While the four-day workweek isn’t imminent, new ideas and open ears for work changes are improving. That’s all we can ask for.