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The new trends combating ‘unfulfilling’ and ‘detrimental’ workplaces

In the last year, “lazy girl” jobs and workplace trends have gained increased traction on social media, as workers prioritise work/life balance and do the bare minimum to get by at work. But do these represent passing trends or a complete shift in modern work?

user iconLauren Croft 01 November 2023 Big Law
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“Snail girl era” and “bare minimum Mondays” are the latest trends highlighting Gen Z’s approach to work, with work/life balance taking priority over “living to work” and “girlbossing” post-pandemic.

Gaining traction on social media, these trends are part of a string of efforts to pivot from overworking and burnout, with many employees across the globe simply sick of the grind and being busy no longer being “cool”.

As reported by Lawyers Weekly’s sister brand, HR Leader, “snail girl era” is a phrase coined by Hello Sisi founder Sienna Ludbey – who said that “the snail girl goes slow, retreats when she needs and follows the path at her own pace”.


“Bare minimum Mondays” was reportedly coined by TikToker Marisa Jo Mayes – and is a movement to begin the work week doing as little as possible, or the bare minimum. This can mean not scheduling meetings in the morning or leaving more important and hefty tasks until later in the week, and it can be a way to combat burnout and increase work/life balance.

Quiet quitting, snail girl era, and bare minimum Mondays > ‘girl bossing’

These trends are an “extension” of quiet quitting, according to Carly Stebbing, who is the principal of Resolution123.

“In my view, it’s a more positive take on that, which is that it’s not about leaving your workplace or quietly quitting from your workplace, actually. It’s just a reconcentration on prioritising your mental wellbeing and/or your family, yourself over and above work and trying to rebalance things,” she said recently on an episode of The Lawyers Weekly Show.

“TikTok, I think, is probably creating a good breeding space for these types of catchy hashtags. I think that we’re seeing this come out of the fact that we’re hitting about the two-year mark of coming out of the pandemic in New South Wales.”

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, people reflected on their working lives and were able to implement better work/life balance after either being burnt out by the pandemic or mentally impacted – and Ms Stebbing said that now, “getting back into busyness mode is not cool” – hence these trends.

“I think there’s been more media tension about people requiring you to come back to the office now than there has been a maintenance of that work-from-home arrangement. But if that was working, there’s no good reason to change it again. If you can’t sacrifice pay for a day off or things like that, then working from home, which means you don’t have to spend the time commuting so that you can exercise in the morning or take the dog for a walk, or walk up to your local coffee shop. There are all other ways. It’s just about trying to slow the pace of life down a little bit and to move away from this idea that busy is cool.

“The standards were serving no one other than the people taking home the profits. At the end of the day, I think it is and has always been a story of why so many lawyers leave the profession. And I don’t think it needs to be that way. And I’ve certainly over the course of my career as both a junior lawyer and now as a more mature lawyer,” Ms Stebbing added.

“I think it’s really just about understanding that work is actually not the most important thing in your life. And you’re right, it doesn’t mean that you’re not a great lawyer because you show up from nine till five and you put in your order while you’re there and you take your hour lunch break and like, great, do that.”

This comes after the concept of “lazy girl jobs” grew in popularity earlier this year: jobs that are undemanding, require little passion, are flexible, and pay well enough. As reported by Lawyers Weekly, some believe that this highlighted a disillusionment with capitalism, as more and more young workers want to enjoy a life outside of work.

These trends could also be indicative of the “positive impact of mental health and wellbeing education”, according to psychotherapist, coach and NSW PLT assistant director and lecturer at the College of Law Australia Florence Thum.

“These so-called trends – ‘quiet quitting’, ‘bare minimum Mondays’, ‘snail girl’ and predominantly in east Asia, ‘lying flat’ and ‘bai lan’ – are strategies to cope with the demands and stresses of the modern workplace. These are attempts at self-care,” she told Lawyers Weekly.

“They signal the dissatisfaction of a generation of workers with traditional corporate culture and certain societal pressures. It is a clash of generational cultures and values pertaining to work, its purpose and meaning in life.”

While it may be easy to label these trends as “lazy”, there’s more to it than that. According to Dr Lena Wang, associate professor at RMIT University, this signifies more younger people looking after their wellbeing.

“These trends don’t signify laziness. Instead, there is a great level of self-compassion and self-consciousness being reflected. Younger generations are rejecting a lifestyle that focuses on the pursuit of external-driven rewards such as money, fame and status, which has been the focus of older generations for many years,” Dr Wang said.

“These life goals serve their purpose when we are pursuing financial security but may eventually become less rewarding once we have reached a certain point in our financial status. Many people are now realising that living a fulfilling, rewarding life is more important than those external rewards.”

And particularly for Gen Z, who make up 20 per cent of the workforce, a career isn’t simply about putting in time and effort, but more so ensuring that a career will positively impact one’s overall quality of life. This, founder and director at Coaching Advocates Lara Wentworth said, means that success in the workplace should enhance workers’ wellbeing rather than detract from it.

“I think it’s clear that Gen Z is ushering in a paradigm shift that challenges conventional notions of work ethic, career ambition and success. They are a generation that values work/life balance and personal wellbeing over the traditional rat race that older generations became accustomed to,” she explained.

“The rise of these trends in workplaces is a sign or a symptom that the paradigm is shifting a lot faster than the culture in workplaces, and as a result, we’re seeing younger generations engaging in things like quiet quitting, snail girl and bare minimum Mondays.”

The post-pandemic legal workplace

In August, research from Robert Half revealed that 87 per cent of employers have implemented mandatory office days, despite the push for five onsite days being labelled “outdated”.

However, many BigLaw firms, including MinterEllison, Clayton Utz and Mills Oakley, are not – and will not – mandate in-office work moving forward.

This confirms that lawyers, like many others, want a sustainable career with their “mental and physical health intact”, according to Ms Thum, who warned that “it would serve the legal profession well to heed these signals”.

“The cause of these strategies is a culture problem; otherwise, these phrases would not have taken hold of our imagination in the first place. These strategies, as I call them, are individualised. It resonates with some, not with others,” she said.

“Sociological studies have shown that our pace of life is accelerating and has a positive correlation to stress. Perhaps these so-called trends are reminders for us to pause or slow and mindfully take stock of what truly matters to us, individually and collectively.”

Work/life balance and flexibility are both key pillars of the post-pandemic, modern workplace. In fact, a number of legal recruiters have already confirmed that firms not offering flexibility would become “second- and third-tier choices” for candidates – particularly in a tight legal market with mid-level lawyers and senior associates in high demand.

Australian boutique FAL Lawyers encourages remote working on a more permanent basis after consulting with staff and key industry stakeholders about what the future of work looks like to them. Hive Legal’s commercial team, which won Commercial Team of the Year at last year’s Australian Law Awards, also supports a “truly flexible” workplace.

Coutts Lawyers & Conveyancers has implemented a four-day working week with no pay cuts, and Shine Lawyers also unveiled a new nine-day fortnight option for staff in August last year.

Flexibility can also take on many forms. When she was a junior lawyer, Ms Stebbing was offered a job with a competitor firm, which she took to her existing firm to secure a 20 per cent raise. However, the firm was also encouraging staff to take their leave and underperforming at the time – so Ms Stebbing decided to trade her raise for extra days off over the summer.

“I went to my bosses and said, how would you feel about, instead of implementing this 20 per cent now, how about if instead, I take every Friday as leave with my current salary? And I was footloose and fancy-free at the time, didn’t have a partner, didn’t have kids. And then, when I came back after the summer, I resumed five days, and the pay increase came into effect. That was probably the first time I traded funds for a day off,” she explained.

“I continued to trade those pay increases and the like with the days off as I went into different modes then, including becoming my own boss and then more recently doing a full-time contract role. I’ve traded holidays, and my kids are now school-age. It’s not such an issue anymore for me to work Monday to Friday. It’s more of an issue about dealing with the fact that they’ve got about 16 weeks of holidays a year and the average person has four. And so, I began doing term-time work. So again, I negotiated to basically pay for extra leave for myself. And that meant I had a week off every school holidays with them and still four weeks at the Christmas holidays.”

Gen Z in law

Despite partners now being optimistic about the development of next-gen leaders, Gen Z is still job hopping more than any other generation, pushing away from office culture and looking for shorter-term roles compared to previous generations.

This, in addition to bare minimum Mondays and the like, could be a result of being raised by Gen X parents.

“Many of their parents, myself included, belong to the generation that was often primed to work tirelessly, driven by a profound sense of responsibility and obligation to succeed. Gen Z watched their parents navigate this demanding landscape, often suffering from burnout, being conspicuously absent from their day-to-day lives and often relying on nannies and grandparents to bridge the gap. In doing so, they developed a mindset that vehemently rejects the idea of ‘killing yourself for a job’ or sacrificing your wellbeing for career. They’ve learned from their parents’ experiences and are making conscious or perhaps unconscious decisions aimed at avoiding the same traps,” Ms Wentworth said.

“This has caused Gen Z to be guided by a unique set of values when it comes to their careers. They don’t live to work; they work to live, and there’s a greater emphasis on living a fulfilling and meaningful life. Their careers must have meaning and fit seamlessly into their lives rather than dominating them.

“I also believe that one of the driving forces behind this change is the evolution of technology. Gen Z believes in working smarter, not harder. They’ve grown up in a world where efficiency and productivity are enhanced by digital tools and connectivity. This mindset translates into the workplace where they seek innovative solutions and strive to find ways to maximise their output without sacrificing their personal lives.”

More Gen Z workers are also increasingly informed – via TikTok or otherwise – on wellbeing and the importance of it, agreed Ms Thum.

“Through conversations with postgraduate students at the College of Law and clients in my psychotherapy and coaching work, I am hearing, in general, a disenchantment with the legal workplace, eschewing of power, status and money as primary motivators, keen interest to establish proper personal and work boundaries, and a particular attention to sustainability, diversity and inclusion,” she added.

“These translate to approaches which prioritise self-care, more frequent and regular evaluation of their work and workplaces, selecting workplaces with aligned values and provide meaning and purpose.”

This means that as more Gen Z workers enter the legal profession, the industry will experience a “wave of transformative changes”, added Ms Wentworth, with this generation having a more holistic approach to work and unlikely to “endure unfulfilling or detrimental workplace environments”.

“A new breed of law firms is on the rise as Gen Z’s emphasis on balance and wellbeing create an emergence of law firms that prioritises a more flexible and employee-centric work culture. This new generation, guided by values, meaning and purpose and armed with unparalleled technological fluency, is poised to reshape the legal landscape in significant ways.

“[This generation] is likely to challenge traditional norms and embrace innovation. Law firms may witness an influence of new ideas and approaches, with Gen Z lawyers championing technologies such as AI-powered legal research tools and virtual collaboration platforms to streamline legal processes and enhance client service. This tech-savvy generation will undoubtedly steer the legal profession towards greater efficiency and adaptability,” she added.

“Leadership and retention challenges will also be on the rise, and leadership will become crucial in retaining Gen Z in the legal profession. This generation is less likely to ‘stick it out’ in traditional law firms that prioritise long hours and rigid hierarchies over work/life balance. Law firms will need to adapt their leadership styles to accommodate the values and expectations of Gen Z lawyers.”

What these trends mean moving forward

While it isn’t known how much – or how little – these trends are affecting the legal industry specifically, being abreast of what they could mean for workplaces should be prioritised by legal leaders and requires a “shift in mindset” for businesses.

“I think many businesses have already noticed that the younger generation has very different values and needs when it comes to work, and the balance of work [versus] life. Hence, to attract the best talents, they would need to be shifting their practices too, to place more attention on creating workplaces that provide employees work/life balance,” Dr Wang added.

“We should not worry too much about ‘business failing victims to these concepts’ as most employees would still want to work hard and to achieve their goals because that gives them a sense of meaning and achievement – those are part of our basic human nature. What we are seeing is a trend that people start to say no to excessive work demands and to put more conscious efforts into self-care.

“Ultimately, doing so is in line with organisations’ priorities, as no businesses want employees to fall sick and absent from work, which is more costly. I would suggest organisations and especially HRs to proactively take into account these trends in designing their policies and practices to deliver benefits both to employees and companies.”

The demanding work schedules and high levels of stress within the legal profession also make it “a challenging arena” for lawyers, opined Ms Wentworth, who said lawyers’ susceptibility to these trends would depend on their personality type.

“On the one hand, the legal environment, with its relentless deadlines, high-pressure situations and significant demands, can result in young lawyers encountering burnout earlier in their careers than they expected. This could lead to these trends being more prevalent in Generation Z within the legal workplace as we’ve seen the demands of the legal profession test even the most determined advocates of work/life balance,” she explained.

“On the other hand, the legal profession still attracts a certain type of personality regardless of the generation that is coming through at the time. This personality type or trend is prevalent in the legal profession across generations and often categorises individuals who constantly strive to overachieve to compensate for their inner sense of insecurity. This drive to excel may mean that Gen Z lawyers are still likely to prioritise hard work, going above and beyond and placing a high value on traditional markers of success within the legal field. The end result is that we may see less of this trend playing out in the legal workplace.”

However, the profession still must address the changing values and needs of Gen Z, something Ms Wentworth said goes beyond wellness initiatives.

“I often hear law firm owners resisting or rejecting the values of Gen Z, labelling them as lazy or selfish and naïve. Law firms should acknowledge and embrace the changing values of this generation. Recognise that they prioritise work/life balance, personal wellbeing, meaningful work and purpose. Rather than saying these values are conflicting with the demands of the profession, find ways to integrate them into the firm’s culture and operations.

“More and more law firms complain about the lack of suitable talent in the labour market, often letting positions in their firms go unfilled. Gen Z lawyers are looking for law firms that will invest in them and that care about them as human beings first and lawyers second. Mentoring and coaching programs are often valuable initiatives to help integrate Gen Z lawyers within the firm and to help the firm bring out the best in them,” she outlined.

“Encourage a culture of self-care within the firm. Provide resources and support for personal growth and wellbeing, such as access to coaching services, stress management programs and reasonable work hours. Prioritising self-care can help prevent burnout, increase productivity and efficiency and keep Gen Z employees engaged.”

Ms Thum echoed a similar sentiment and cited concerns that these workplace trends could have negative implications for workplace wellbeing and “give rise to reactive steps such as increased workplace monitoring, micromanagement, and inequities relating to distribution of workload, recognition and rewards”.

“Wounds heal better in supportive environments. Wellness initiatives contribute to a supportive environment. This doesn’t remove the need and responsibility to locate and fix what is causing the wounds in the first place.

“Workplaces must embrace its diverse people and the different ways in which they work; this means establishing inclusive practices and systems that promote psychological safety – in particular, trust and accountability – and are adaptable to the needs of its people,” she added.

“Relationally, in the workplace, we have to care, to demonstrate compassion for others and ourselves, to move away from a scarcity mentality – where more for you means less for me – to an abundance mindset – there is enough for everyone, and to maintain a win-win approach with each other and our work.”