What does ‘fast-paced environment’ even mean? And does anyone actually want to work in one?

Written by Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and women’s issues. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.

Despite the shift towards a calmer way of working during the pandemic, job adverts using the term ‘fast-paced environment’ are at an all-time high. But what does the term actually mean? 

If you’ve ever spent an afternoon scrolling through the job pages of Indeed or LinkedIn, it’s likely you’ve come across the phrase ‘fast-paced environment’. As far as job adverts go, the phrase is as common as they come – alongside ‘dynamic’ and ‘proactive’, the concept of a ‘fast-paced environment’ has long reigned supreme in the world of recruitment.

But despite how ubiquitous a phrase it is, no one really seems to know what it means. To some, a fast-paced environment simply describes a busy, exciting workplace with lots of opportunities for growth. Whereas for others, it suggests that the role will require you to get things done under extreme time pressure. So, what does a fast-paced environment really mean? And why is it so commonly used?  

The answer is a complicated one. As with most words and phrases, the definition of a fast-paced environment has changed in line with the way we think – something that’s happened a lot when it comes to our work over the last two years. 

In particular, the shift towards working from home has changed the way we think about our ‘working environment’ – on top of the sense of control working from home afforded many people, the proximity it brought between our work and home lives forced us to become more clued up about setting boundaries. And now, as companies fight to get people back in the office, the idea of stepping back into that “fast-paced environment” is a lot less appealing. 

“Once upon a time, the term fast-paced environment was attractive because we believed this was a life that those who are ‘successful’ live,” Fiona Moss, a career coach, business mentor and host of the You First podcast, tells Stylist

“However, the pandemic has taught us something quite different. Over the last couple of years, the eyes of employees have been opened to the lack of balance that life offered pre-Covid, as they got caught up on the ever-quickening fast-paced treadmill of the corporate world.” 

The way we view the term ‘fast-paced environment’ has changed over the last couple of years.

On top of this, Moss says, the shift towards remote working has shown employees that they can be just as, if not more, efficient outside of a fast-paced environment.

“What most people have now realised is that they are still achieving just as much – that we don’t have to ‘always be on’ in order to achieve more,” she says. “In fact, the opposite is true.”

Of course, it’s worth noting that many workers didn’t find working from home to be a helpful shift; for some, it led to increased rates of stress and burnout. However, what it did do was offer us all a perspective of what life could be like outside the parameters of the fast-paced office environment many of us had gotten used to – and while some people may have realised the fast-paced life was for them, it seems as if many of us aren’t so sure. 

In fact, when I asked Stylist’s Twitter followers how the phrase “fast-paced environment” made them feel, 94.1% of those who responded said the phrase was a red flag.  

However, just because the general consensus surrounding the idea of being rushed off your feet at work may have changed, it doesn’t mean the number of companies using the term ‘fast-paced environment’ has decreased. In fact, according to Indeed, the term has only become more common since the pandemic – there has been a 50% rise in the term’s frequency on the site since June 2020.

“We analysed millions of job descriptions on Indeed and found that the term ‘fast-paced environment’ has become more common in recent years,” says Glenda Kirby, VP of client success and executive sponsor of women at Indeed. “It’s difficult to put a finger on the precise reason why, but it’s likely employers are using it as a catch-all phrase to convey the buzz and energy of a workplace as well as the busy nature of the role.”

In this way, it seems as if there could be a disparity between how employees and employers view the term – while those looking for a less-pressurised atmosphere may see it as a red flag, employers trying to get people back into the office may see it as a way to attract those tired of remote working.  

But there lies the crux of the issue: thanks to its overuse, a fast-paced environment has become a catch-all term for everything and nothing. And in a post-pandemic job market where companies are struggling to fill positions (in January, the Office for National Statistics announced a record-high of more than 1.2 million job vacancies), the definition that holds the most weight is the one most commonly accepted by job hunters, not the companies writing the adverts. 

Kirby agrees: “When it comes to the workplace, ‘fast-paced environment’ is in danger of becoming a cliché that has lost all meaning, and worse still, turns qualified candidates away. It strikes me that – with so much to say about their company, people and the role they’re advertising – recruiters offering a fast-paced environment might be wasting their word count and their chances of connecting with an increasingly discerning set of job seekers willing to hold out for the right role and the right environment.”

The world of recruitment can be a complicated one, and while phrases like ‘fast-paced environment’ may have become part of the furniture, the changing job market within which it is being used has had a meaningful impact on the way it’s being perceived. If anything, it’s a reminder of just how much has changed over the last couple of years – and how those looking for a job have more power than they think.  

Images: Getty

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