Rethinking Time and How We Invest It
By: David Bracken | April 3, 2023
The pandemic. Inflation. Rising Interest rates. Over the past three years we’ve experienced a series of shocks that have altered how we perceive and value time. How we save, spend, manage, and invest our time are all now top of mind concerns. This is challenging many of our accepted notions about mental health and wellness, productivity, and financial planning.

If anything’s changed since the pandemic began it’s our shared sense of the value of time.
  • Facebook.
  • Twitter.
  • LinkedIn.
  • Print
Americans Have Quit Their Jobs at Record Levels Since Early 2021
Figure 1. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Time gained can be spent elsewhere. Prior to the pandemic, 61% of working adults reported not having enough time in the day to do everything they want.1 More than half of us couldn’t even find the time to take all the paid vacation we earn each year.2Then COVID-19 hit. Remote work suddenly freed up millions of hours of locked time. Research shows we used this newfound time to sleep more, pursue hobbies, tend to childcare and household chores.3 Even those who couldn’t do their jobs from home became aware—and envious—of the benefits free time provides. More than 80 million Americans have quit their jobs since the beginning of 2021, many of them seeking more control over where, when, and how they work (see Figure 1).4 Workers with little or no flexibility in their schedule are more than twice as likely to look for a new job in the coming year, with the average worker willing to sacrifice 5% in salary to work remotely at least part of the time.5

Nearly 30% of workers say a shorter workweek is now their most sought-after benefit.

Time off becomes more than just a benefit. 77% of workers have experienced burnout in their current job and half of all workers report that their mental health has deteriorated since the pandemic began.6 Thanks in part to pressure applied by employees, firms now see the link between mental health, wellness, and time off. Many companies are now requiring associates to take a minimum number of days off. Some have even launched sabbatical programs to give employees extended breaks to recharge. The number of companies offering mental health days could triple to 30% in the next two years, according to one recent survey.7 Even the 4-day workweek, once a fringe idea, is rapidly gaining adherents among employees and employers. Nearly 30% of workers say a shorter workweek is now their most sought-after benefit.8 And hundreds of companies are test-driving the concept as part of a first-of-its-kind global pilot project.

Rediscovering the time value of money. With both inflation and interest rates rising in parallel investors find themselves navigating yet another time shift. Inflation, of course, diminishes purchasing power in the present, while rising interest rates place a higher value on the future. That’s causing some whiplash in the market. Rising costs are driving more than half of working Americans to look for a second job to help pay for living expenses.9 Higher borrowing costs are eating into people’s ability to save and invest for the future, with credit card debt rising at the fastest rate in more than 20 years.10 Two-thirds of Americans now say market volatility and rising inflation are making them more worried about their ability to retire, a 10-percentage point increase from just 12 months earlier.11 Plus, the savings stockpile many households built up during the pandemic are dwindling, making it harder for some to find cash to put aside.

New Insights Lead to Shifting Priorities

By taking a sledgehammer to our daily routines, the pandemic made time visible in ways it simply wasn’t before. Decreasing purchasing power and rising interest rates have added another wrinkle, underscoring just how vulnerable time is to macroeconomic factors that can profoundly change personal spending and savings choices. Our control, use, management, and even the pricing of time are now top of mind concerns, sharpening our focus on:

Wellness. Americans have long been obsessed with busyness, to the point where bragging about being overworked became a status symbol that even marketers glommed onto. But the pandemic showed us what time researchers have long known: time “off” is really good for us. People who value time over money are generally happier and more satisfied with their lives. 12 People who work more than 55 hours a week face a 35% higher risk of stroke and 17% higher risk from heart disease.13 Workers increasingly viewing time as vital to their wellbeing speaks to what technology has done to our work-life balance. Always-on digital tools have eroded the boundaries between our work and personal lives, with one recent survey finding we spend almost eight hours a week checking work emails after hours.14 In Europe, this has led several countries to adopt “right to disconnect” laws that protect employees from having to respond to work communications after hours. In the U.S., it’s leading employees to demand more time off and clearer boundaries around when work is expected to get done.

Productivity. Knowledge workers spend just 42% of their daily time on strategic or skilled work, with a third saying their attention span has gotten shorter over the past year.15 How is this possible? The digital tools we rely on to do our jobs are making time demands on us that crowd out time for heads down, deep work. This was true before the pandemic and is even more true in the age of hybrid working. The average Microsoft Teams user has seen a 153% increase in meetings since the start of the pandemic, including a 46% increase in overlapping meetings.16 One study found we spend on average 18 hours a week in meetings, a third of which we would rather decline.17 We’re also now switching between 9 different applications during a typical day, many of which send persistent, disruptive notifications. This leads employees to be less satisfied with their jobs and more prone to burnout. Many companies have realized new initiatives are required to break these tendencies.

Retirement. 76% of workers say the pandemic changed their life priorities.18 For many younger workers, it has made them want to retire earlier to spend more time with friends and family and to focus on things other than their career. Half of employees under the age of 50 now expect to retire before age 65, with millennial and Gen Z workers both expecting to retire before they turn 60.19 A quarter of Gen Zers even say they want to retire by 55.20 These ambitious goals don’t stem from investing naivete, but rather from our shifting attitudes about time and how we want to spend it throughout life. It’s also a sign that many younger workers no longer see the traditional path to retirement as feasible or even desirable. Retirement is no longer just about achieving a target amount of savings and working less. It’s about slowing down and having the time and flexibility to pursue experiences. This more expansive view means retirement isn’t necessarily a one-time event, but rather is something workers may want to experience multiple times throughout their careers. There’s even an acronym now to describe this approach: FILE, or Financial Independence, Live Early.

Why It Matters

Evidence shows that time is a new source of leverage. We once valued work for the pay, benefits, and networking opportunities it provided. Now we increasingly value work for its ability to give us more control of time. We’ve seen how time gained can be invested elsewhere in our lives. Going forward, the value of time is likely to be at the center of how people think about:

Workplace benefits. Workers have made clear they want more control over how they spend their time, and that they’re willing to change jobs to get it. This shift is resetting expectations around workplace benefits. In the U.S., which is the only advanced country without a national paid leave policy, employees were three to four times more likely to quit if their companies didn’t provide paid time off.21 While federal rules mandating time off remain unlikely, employers will need to evolve their benefits packages for workers who are now more protective of their time. This is one reason more companies are embracing the flexibility offered by so-called lifestyle spending accounts. These employer-provided, taxable funds allow workers to spend on a range of perks, including time-saving services like childcare, elder care, and even travel and vacations. While just 10% of employers currently offer lifestyle savings accounts, 70% are considering adding them.22

How we work. Much of the workplace flexibility discussion to date has focused on where employees work. But when and how we work is likely to change just as drastically in the coming years. Hybrid work’s reliance on asynchronous and synchronous tools have left many workers burned out and too often defaulting to meetings to figure out how work should get done. Companies that figure out a better way to prioritize deep work may reap the benefits in the form of increased productivity and happier employees. We’re still in the early stages of what this new way of working will look like. But it’s likely to involve more, and firmer, boundaries around our time.

Financial planning. More Americans are now worried that they’re not on track for retirement than at any point in the past three years.23 This economic uncertainty has arrived as many investors are looking to better align their financial plans with how they now want to spend their time. 18% of U.S. adults who didn't have a financial advisor before the pandemic have started working with one or now plan to.24

Signals to Watch

The four-day workweek. Several large companies have experimented with shorter workweeks. If a name brand employer goes beyond just localized pilots, it could mean the hegemony of the five-day work week is weakening, particularly if it results in improved productivity and better talent recruitment.

Job descriptions get more explicit about time. Job postings offering hybrid work increased 52% from September 2021 to August 2022.25 But many of these postings are vague at best about what hybrid actually means. The inclusion of clearer time expectations in job postings would signal companies’ policies on flexibility are becoming more settled. It would also signal workers are demanding more details about how their time will be spent in any job they accept.

Time increasingly becomes an equity issue. Last year transit advocates in New York City campaigned for buses and subways to come every six minutes.26 Airline pilots demanded more predictable scheduling in their contract negotiations with carriers.27 Look for time to be at the center of the country’s flashpoints over income inequality in the coming years.

  • Facebook.
  • Twitter.
  • LinkedIn.
  • Print
1 Newport, F. (2015, December 31). Americans’ Perceived Time Crunch No Worse Than in Past.; Gallup.
2 Cooper, M. (2019, August 16). Study: A Record 768 Million U.S. Vacation Days Went Unused in ‘18, Opportunity Cost in the Billions. U.S. Travel Association.
6 Mental Health Support Increasing, But Workers Still Struggle. (2022, May 9). The Conference Board.
7 Employers making employee mental health and wellbeing a top health priority, WTW survey finds. (n.d.). Willis Towers Watson.
8 Remote and Flexible Work Are Key Factors in Compensation Packages | FlexJobs. (2022, March 25). FlexJobs Job Search Tips and Blog.
9 Inflation Forces Over 50% Of Americans to Consider a Side Hustle - Bloomberg
11 Inflation, Covid stoking retirement savings fears, says Nationwide survey. (2022, July 21). InvestmentNews.
12, H. E., Mogilner, C., & Barnea, U. (2016). People Who Choose Time Over Money Are Happier. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 7(7), 697–706.
14 Hershfield, H. E., Mogilner, C., & Barnea, U. (2016). People Who Choose Time Over Money Are Happier. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 7(7), 697–706.
15 Anatomy of Global Work Index 2022, Asana
17 The Cost of Unnecessary Meeting Attendance
19 Infographic: Half of U.S. employees face retirement risks. (n.d.). Willis Towers Watson. Northwestern Mutual.
20 Goldman Sachs Asset Management Releases Retirement Survey & Insights Report Showing The Changing Realities Of Retirement Planning In The US. (n.d.).
22 Lifestyle Spending Accounts: Your Top Questions Answered | Mercer US. (n.d.). Lifestyle Spending Accounts: Your Top Questions Answered.
23 blackrock. (n.d.). The 2022 BlackRock Read on Retirement. BlackRock
24 (2022, July 27). The Majority of Americans Say Their Financial Planning Needs Improvement, But Only a Third Seek Professional Help. Northwestern Mutual.
Please enter a valid e-mail address
Please enter a valid e-mail address
Important legal information about the e-mail you will be sending. By using this service, you agree to input your real e-mail address and only send it to people you know. It is a violation of law in some jurisdictions to falsely identify yourself in an e-mail. All information you provide will be used by Fidelity solely for the purpose of sending the e-mail on your behalf.The subject line of the e-mail you send will be " "

Your e-mail has been sent.

Your e-mail has been sent.

This website is operated by Fidelity Center for Applied Technology (FCAT)® which is part of Fidelity Labs, LLC (“Fidelity Labs”), a Fidelity Investments company. FCAT experiments with and provides innovative products, services, content and tools, as a service to its affiliates and as a subsidiary of FMR LLC. Based on user reaction and input, FCAT is better able to engage in technology research and planning for the Fidelity family of companies. is independent of Unless otherwise indicated, the information and items published on this web site are provided by FCAT and are not intended to provide tax, legal, insurance or investment advice and should not be construed as an offer to sell, a solicitation of an offer to buy, or a recommendation for any security by any Fidelity entity or any third-party. In circumstances where FCAT is making available either a product or service of an affiliate through this site, the affiliated company will be identified. Third party trademarks appearing herein are the property of their respective owners. All other trademarks are the property of FMR LLC.

This is for persons in the U.S. only.

245 Summer St, Boston MA

© 2008-2024 FMR LLC All right reserved |

Terms of Use | Privacy | Security | DAT Support