What ‘Bare Minimum Monday’ Gets Right About Easing Stress at Work

Here's a tip as we mark World Mental Health Day: Prioritizing their own well-being instead of forcing productivity could be exactly what workers need right now.
Taryn Phaneuf
By Taryn Phaneuf 
Published
Edited by Laura McMullen

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TikTok trends don’t lie: Whether they’re “quiet quitting” or adopting “Bare Minimum Monday” to combat the “Sunday scaries,” people are pulling back at work.

In one sense, making work a smaller part of life is a permanent shift that people working from home experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, says Cristina Banks, an industrial and organizational psychologist and director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Healthy Workplaces at the University of California, Berkeley Haas School of Business.

While working from home, people had more autonomy. They also had a clearer idea of the value of their time, which they could spend exercising or playing with their kids rather than sitting in traffic on their way to the office.

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After many workers had that experience and are now being pushed to return to pre-pandemic norms, Banks says it’s hard for them to give up control over when or how much they work.

So, some workers embrace trends like Bare Minimum Monday, which suggests doing only the most important tasks at the start of the week, in order to retain that control.

But people’s choice to devote less time and energy to work may also have a more worrying root. Surveys repeatedly show that a large share of workers are teetering on the edge of burnout.

So, in the spirit of World Mental Health Day on Oct. 10, we look at the challenges and a tactic that can help workers cope.

Burnout and poor mental health at work

Roughly 3 out of 4 workers said they experienced work-related stress in the last month, according to the 2023 Work in America Survey by the American Psychological Association. More than half said that stress resulted in an array of negative effects, including emotional exhaustion, lack of motivation, a desire to quit, lower productivity and irritability, among others.

The statistics around mental health at work are so bleak that workplace well-being has become one of the highest priorities of public health and business organizations alike over the past two years.

For example, the surgeon general's office has made addressing workers’ well-being one of its top priorities, saying the pandemic highlighted the link between people’s health and their work.

The federal agency created a list of stressors chipping away at Americans’ mental health that reads like a day in the life of a typical U.S. worker: heavy workloads, long commutes, unpredictable schedules, long hours, limited autonomy, multiple jobs and low wages.

The solution ought to come from employers, the surgeon general and others conclude. But executives first have to overcome their own wrong assumptions.

In the 2023 Well-Being At Work Survey, released in June by Deloitte, a business management consulting company, C-suite executives tended to have an overly optimistic view of workers’ well-being that doesn’t match workers’ own assessment of how they’re doing. While two-thirds of surveyed employees said their mental health stayed the same or got worse in the past year, the overwhelming majority of executives believed their employees' mental health got better.

With that kind of disconnect, workers might need to make the first move. One of the more recent trends to rise out of social media, called Bare Minimum Monday, invites people to prioritize their own well-being instead of forcing productivity. It could be exactly what workers need right now.

What is Bare Minimum Monday?

Bare Minimum Monday is a trend started on TikTok by Marisa Jo Mayes, a content creator and co-founder of Spacetime Monotasking, a startup providing virtual coworking space and productivity tools.

Mayes coined the term Bare Minimum Monday to describe her slowed-down start to the workweek. Instead of feeling paralyzed over an impossibly long to-do list, she focuses on doing only the most necessary work tasks.

When she’s done with those, she allows herself to set work aside in favor of self-care, creative pursuits, cleaning or anything else that feels good to do (which can also be more work).

“Before I started doing Bare Minimum Monday, I was physically making myself sick with stress,” Mayes says in one video. “I couldn’t produce anything because of the level of burnout I had reached.”

Why try Bare Minimum Monday

Mayes says practicing Bare Minimum Monday frees you from the pressure of an unrealistic workload, encouraging you to be easier on yourself and helping you dodge burnout.

It turns out that lowering expectations for what you should accomplish in a day can have the unintended effect of making productive work easier to do.

While she started Bare Minimum Monday so she'd feel better, Mayes discovered that cutting herself some slack made her, "more productive than [she] ever thought possible."

It would be hard for an employer to argue with that result, Banks says. “As long as they’re productive, why care where they are or how long a workday they put in?”