When was the last time you questioned how work fits into your life? Or whether you should work at all?
On the social networking site Reddit, there is a forum (a subreddit) with 2.2 million members called r/Antiwork where users question the very nature of work as we know it. On this forum, members post stories about work conditions that make them wish they could quit their jobs or have already resulted in them leaving their positions.
A popular genre of posts is text message screenshots between the employee and an overbearing manager, where the employee finally tells the manager they’re done. Manager infractions include everything from careless scheduling gaffes to denying time off for bereavement. Other users share memes about how capitalism isn’t designed to benefit most people and only works for a select few. (The subreddit’s motto is “Unemployment for all, not just the rich!”) And for those not ready to fully embrace the antiwork lifestyle, some posts celebrate labor unions as the defender of workers’ rights.
This subreddit has grown from 80,000 members over the last two years as people have reevaluated the role work plays in their life as a response to the shakeup from the pandemic. While the sentiment of ending work altogether on r/Antiwork is an extreme manifestation of this trend, it’s easy to find more moderate displays of the same sentiment on mainstream social media networks. In 2022, we saw a wave of conversation on TikTok around the concept of “quiet quitting.” In short-form videos, creators explained to their audiences that their jobs shouldn’t be the center of their lives and it’s totally okay to do the bare minimum — as in, do the least without handing in your resignation letter.
While ideas such as the ones found on r/ Antiwork originate from small corners of the internet, they seep into the mainstream for two reasons — for one, because journalists are scouring the depths of the internet where the most interesting stories are found. Second, while the conversations may start on a niche platform like Reddit, they make their way to mainstream platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter as users debate the merits of the provocative ideas. These conversations gain more momentum as they merge with complementary trends, such as the rise in labor union activity that we have seen this past year.
In 2022, we’re seeing the Federal Reserve attempt to curtail inflation through quantitative tightening, but workers aren’t ready to give up their leverage. Perhaps this new leverage doesn’t exclusively come from a tight labor market — maybe it comes from the ability to organize at scale and call out workplace practices that are designed to put power in the hands of the employer.
And one may argue that the power dynamic between employers and employees shifts as economic conditions change — employees may be enjoying more power now, but they will lose it as soon as the unemployment rate rises. But what if it is different this time?