In many ways, it feels like the pandemic slowed down time. Busy morning commutes disappeared. Time with family and friends felt scarce and fraught. Rolling cancellations meant we lost a sense of future anticipation. Many lived, worked, and learned under the same roof for months. These voids were often filled with daunting news headlines and unwelcomed health and financial concerns—which only made the days, weeks, and months feel heavier.
After two long years, most might assume that people are eager to return to their earlier lives. However, a confluence of signals suggests something bigger is at play.1
All that time staring at the same walls gave us collective time to think. And, we collectively thought about our time—specifically, its finite nature and how it might be better spent. This rethink around time is likely to play out across a number of dimensions, from how and where we spend our time, to how we work, as well as how we better align our time to more purposeful and meaningful goals.
The implications for the consumer industry are important, and not just because how we spend our time informs our buying behavior, but because the people rethinking time are both customers and employees. Because of this, the implications truly span across the organization, from rethinking customer engagement and talent strategies, to how companies can become more purpose-driven.
Globally, most people feel they’ve become more focused on personal change in the past year (figure 1). This introspective shift—perhaps a precursor to bigger lifestyle changes—signals some discontent with present situations or circumstances, or at the very least, the awareness that some aspects of life need to be better. The fact that the majority of the world feels this way sets a strong foundation for a big-picture reset.
There’s also an incredibly strong—and important—prioritization of well-being happening globally (figure 1). Beyond merely diet and exercise, today’s consumer is increasingly in tune with the holistic nature of well-being—where factors such as mental health, happiness, life satisfaction, or sense of meaning and purpose can all be parts of the health equation. Now more than ever, prioritizing well-being has the potential to translate into changes across different aspects of daily life.
The focus on personal change and well-being might be helping to tip the scales of work-life balance. Compared to one year ago, the percentage of consumers who feel they are finding more time to enjoy today (34%) significantly outnumbers those who feel they are working harder to get ahead (22%) (figure 2). This is a healthy portion of people prioritizing their personal time over working more, particularly considering the financial challenges many faced throughout the pandemic and rising prices for everyday purchases.
We all spend a large part of our week working. Even a slight shift away from it, globally, could represent a significant reordering of daily life. With headlines around the Great Resignation in the backdrop, along with intensifying industrywide talent challenges, the idea that people’s sentiment and attitudes toward work might be changing isn’t news for consumer businesses. But the lens of time perhaps offers new perspective. How can consumer brands better serve a customer or employee who is putting greater value on their time?
On the customer side, the deprioritization of work may ultimately lead consumer businesses to prioritize innovation around customer engagement. It isn’t a far stretch to assume that customers will gravitate toward brands that can accommodate new, shifting lifestyles more easily. On the talent side, businesses will ultimately need to refocus on talent strategies that build more organizational resilience around evolving employee needs. For example, if motivation around work is dipping, how can workplace environments evolve to provide deeper human engagement, and the opportunity and motivation for talent to flourish?
It’s important to note that these shifting attitudes around time and work don’t apply to everyone. In a country such as the United States, attitudes around work reveal a consumer bifurcation story.2 There, income plays a big role. Higher earners are significantly more likely to deprioritize earning more and working harder.
People are also rethinking time spent in the physical world and a rapidly maturing digital one. As the pandemic begins to fade, signs suggest people are contesting a lifestyle that became too digitized, too quickly. Globally, nearly a third (30%) of consumers feel they’re seeking more in-person experiences compared to a year ago (figure 2). In many ways, the pandemic accelerated the shift to digital. But it also perhaps served as a reminder of our inherently social side too.
Still, nearly one in five (18%) feel they’re replacing more in-person experiences with digital ones. As some race back to human connection, others are embracing a more virtual world. Maybe consumer bifurcation isn’t just a financial story, but increasingly a digital and physical one as well. For consumer brands, the omnichannel challenges of today might pale in comparison to those on the horizon.
Two globally universal truths are unfolding around work. People want to work more remotely than they currently are (roughly 20% more to be exact) (figure 3). And these preferences haven’t changed for six months.
Currently, those able to work remotely are still working the majority of the week from home—an average of 2.9 days. If their employer allowed it, they would prefer even more flexibility—an average of 3.5 days (figure 3).
The growing demands around time are clear. Building on the previous narrative—if time has more value, it should perhaps come as little surprise that people might go to greater lengths to own it—or, at least, better control it. Demands unfolding around workplace flexibility are a means toward better control.
Growing customer expectations around flexibility will inevitably trickle down to consumer businesses, only reinforcing the importance of innovation around customer engagement. Less discussed, a more permanent global shift to hybrid work could reshape product demand more than some might expect. In the United States, for example, consumer spending intentions change as days spent working from home increase.3 Successful brands will likely be those with the agility to adapt to customers’ evolving work preferences. These shifts in consumer behavior can bring strategic opportunities to adjust product portfolio mixes and routes to market, tweak operating models, and take a fresh look at profit contributions.
A redefinition of the employer-employee relationship is likely to be one of the lasting changes to come out of the pandemic. Consumer businesses are being challenged with the task of redefining traditional corporate and customer-facing work environments in relatively short order. Whether creating more respect for your customer-facing employees’ time through better, more predictable scheduling, or integrating the best of physical and digital realms to create a corporate work culture that supports all workstyle needs and preferences, a strategic focus on flexibility will be key.
There’s also a more qualitative lens of what we do with our time and the purpose it serves. There’s evidence consumers are thinking about purpose too.
Those who feel they’re pursuing more purposeful goals outnumber those more focused on earning (figure 2). Purpose can mean different things to different people. But if we think about purpose as any endeavor, big or small, that’s personally meaningful or might help serve a greater good, then consumer brands should pay attention. A world of consumers making even incremental efforts to use their time more purposefully could drive important shifts in behavior.
Some shifts around topics such as sustainability are already maturing globally. Across the world, roughly three in five consumers feel they’ve changed at least one aspect of their behavior to help address climate change (figure 4). Almost the same number have purchased a sustainable good or service within the past month. On the employee side, roughly one-third feel they would switch jobs to work for a more sustainable company.4 The same percentage feels a potential employer’s position on sustainability would influence a job offer decision.5
For consumer brands, the concept of purpose in business is not new. But the purpose imperative is likely growing stronger. Brands are facing market forces they cannot ignore, from the ongoing imperative to address the root causes of our climate change crises, to the groundswell of activity to advance social justice, to the accelerated expectations from government and investors around environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues. This reality requires consumer brands to define their purpose and ensure their activities and internal processes are consistent with their stated positions and values.
Some skeptics still believe there is an inherent trade-off between purpose and profit; values and value. But as consumers align their time to purpose, leading brands continue to signal their own realignment. Global financial firms are making pledges to bring billions of people into the digital economy and deploy billions of dollars in sustainable finance within the next decade. Leading car manufacturers and airlines, among other sectors, have announced net-zero emissions targets and new talent commitments to create more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workforces.
The overwhelming majority of people across the world feel they are living through a uniquely introspective moment, brought on by the pandemic. In many ways, these changes are connected to different dimensions of time—from where we spend it and who we spend it with, to what we spend it on, and why we’re spending it.
As consumers ponder over time’s finite nature and value, businesses should follow suit—and thereby assess their purpose, as well as customer engagement and talent strategies.
Deloitte Consumer leaders work with global brands to create winning strategies for the near future in the Automotive; Consumer Products; Retail; and Transportation, Hospitality & Services sectors. Our mission is to use our proprietary data and judgement to help you get closer to your consumers.