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5 big takeaways from Reddit’s antiwork

The rise of Reddit's r/antiwork is giving a voice to The Great Resignation.

worker considering joining the great resignation thanks to reddit's r/antiwork

Reddit’s antiwork forum is giving the nation’s work force a place to sound off.

The fastest-growing subreddit across the entire platform is in a period of hyper growth.

As of the time of this writing, it has almost 1.2 million subscribers – and that’s not even counting lurkers. The community is highly engaged, with posts regularly garnering tens of thousands of upvotes and active discussions.

According to the antiwork community description, the forum is a place for “those who want to end work, are curious about ending work, want to get the most out of a work-free life, want more information on antiwork ideas and want personal help with their own jobs/work-related struggles.”

The content posted in the antiwork subreddit reflects this sentiment, but it reveals some of the skeletons that have been hiding in the American workplace. Among them, the driving factors behind the cultural phenomenon of The Great Resignation.

Here are five common themes in r/antiwork‘s content and discussions – in other words, the real engine behind The Great Resignation.

1. Socio/psychopathic employers and bosses are running the show

One employee is written up for attending their father’s funeral.

Another describes offering their boss a ride home from work after the boss mentions their car is in an auto repair shop.

According to this employee, what started as an awkward one-off favor was quickly leveraged into becoming the boss’s personal chauffeur. The boss even changed the employee’s schedule to match his own.

When the employee asked when the boss’s car would be ready, the boss erupts in anger. They berate the employee for being “ungrateful,” a common point of view of managers and bosses across the nation, if the stories shared on r/antiwork are any gauge.

Collectively, the compendium of antiwork stories reveal a common theme: America’s manager and bosses are psychopathic. Psychopaths aren’t always violent and murderous (though many murderers are psychopathic.) In part due to their inflated sense of self importance, psychopaths seek situations in which they can control and manipulate every detail. They see others as an accessory to their lives as opposed to independent human beings in control of their own lives.

The main mechanisms they use are manipulation and creating dependencies that can be used as points of leverage. More often than not, they are cruel, condescending, one sided, exploitative of goodwill, and show brazen disregard for the well being of others.

Many seem to think that employees should essentially want to work for free or out of passion, without any concern for their own bills and financial well being. A sense of entitlement over the employee’s life and time show up repeatedly. A common theme is that the employees should feel indebted to the employers, as if the employer isn’t getting anything from the employee in exchange for a paycheck.

One out-of-touch job lister states in the description that she doesn’t want any “pay chasers.”

The job only offers $12/hour.

The insight to be gleaned here is that a major problem that is widespread in the workplace today is highly abusive, psychopathic people find their way into positions of power and leverage. The system as it is now rewards psychopathy.

This is supported by research: Though only 1% of the population is estimated to be psychopathic, they are over represented in management positions by between 300–400%. The higher up the chain, the more psychopaths there are. Wall Street suits and CEOs have some of the highest frequency of psychopaths of any profession. In these fields and professions, they are overrepresented by 1000%–1200%.

Once in positions of power, psychopaths wield their authority to overstep boundaries and exert control. The stories on r/antiwork back these studies up, giving the real-life human context of psychopathic managers and bosses exploiting worker dependency on their paychecks as a point of leverage, disregarding their personal situations, and expectations of full submission – even for matters unrelated to the job.

Considering psychopathic traits are favored and rewarded in the modern work place, it’s no surprise that the work force routinely finds themselves lied to, manipulated, exploited and abused.

And it’s no surprise that at some point, they decide they’ve had enough – and find themselves joining the ranks of The Great Resignation.

Employees who stand up for themselves are celebrated in the r/antiwork Reddit. With stories of quitting on the spot, particularly when a boss or manager has gone too far, regularly generating 50,000+ upvotes, presumably, there are thousands, if not millions more who hope to one day do the same.

2. All work, no pay

While the trend of more work for less pay has been in motion for decades, these dynamics have grown ever more acute as the country emerged from pandemic shutdowns. A nationwide phenomenon or working on skeleton crews swept the workplace.

After almost a year of interruption from the COVID-19 virus, many workers began reevaluating their lives and employment. When boosted unemployment benefits expired and employers called their employees back to work, many decided not to return and opted to try finding another job or means of income.

As a result, those that did return found themselves buried under workloads that had doubled, tripled in volume as the work once assigned to their coworkers was distributed among fewer employees.

According to many r/antiwork stories, while employers expected employees to pick up the slack, they dug their heels in when employees asked for a pick up in pay to match the increased workloads.

With fewer employee’s on payroll and PPP loans forgiven, the vast majority of the nation’s employers should have the funds within their budget to increase the pay of their most loyal employees who are taking on extra work.

The concept of meaningful raises in the U.S. has all but died. This stark reality has been the impetus behind the notion of Millennial workers as “job hoppers” – staying loyal to a company hardly keeps up with rising inflation and costs of living. The days of “climbing up the ladder” have largely receded in the modern workplace as compared to previous generations, a reality that has manifested in almost every sector of the economy.

Employers have put additional strain on their most loyal employees. Numerous large-scale organizations are back to pre-pandemic level businesses, but continue to operate on skeleton crews and refuse to budge on pay.

Even in advanced education, highly specialized fields such as biomedical research labs and tech, employees have experienced declines in their benefits, pay, and opportunity. A sizable portion of the people entering these fields have considerable student debt to their names. They too are struggling to keep pace.

As corporations have become ever more consolidated, the labor models of many major corporations increasingly depends on employee turnover to keep payroll costs low.

In some instances, American corporations regularly pay foreign analog employees significantly more for the same job.

As workers see no potential upside to working harder, no end in sight to their massive workload increase, or benefit in remaining loyal to a company, The Great Resignation make a lot of sense in context.

3. Mainstream media is not on the labor force’s side

Some of the highest engagement posts in Reddit’s antiwork center around how the mainstream media depicts the work force and their concerns.

The mainstream media, owned and operated by the wealthiest Americans, is shifting blame of The Great Resignation back onto the workforce. Their narrative is one of a bloated social benefit system endorsing laziness and apathy in the labor force.

But millions of workers did not decide to quit their jobs, particularly without back up, because things were going well in the American workplace. That betrays the data.

According to the Department of Labor, 4.1 million workers quit their jobs in July. The number only climbed from there.

In August of this year, 4.3 million people quit the labor force. In September, another 4.4 million gave notice – many without new positions lined up.

That means that over 7% of the total U.S. labor force quit their jobs between July and September of 2021. The trend might still be accelerating – The Department of Labor is set to release October 2021’s data in early December.

The media rarely covers the breakdown in job quality, the abusive treatment employees face by their bosses, customers, and clients, let alone stagnent wages even in the face of hugely increased workloads.

Instead, they overreport pay gains and under report the rising cost of living that not only wipes out these “wage gains,” but leave workers in worse financial positions year after year, despite gaining experience.

Blame always falls on the working class. Stories about business owners not being able to find workers have a noticeable slant – it is the work force, not the Federal Reserve’s bad economic policies – that is making it difficult for small to midsized businesses to survive. The housing crisis? Too much avocado toast. Student debt slandering a decade’s worth of wealth building? Shouldn’t have studied something ‘useless.’

The cohort that once represented the middle class is slipping down the societal ladder. Those who were just getting onto their first rungs are having a harder time seeing the benefit of trying to move up. Hard work, education, dedication, and employer promises are not honored or respected – these are the stories avoided by the mainstream media that find their way to r/antiwork.

National media outlets regularly publish content that display how out of touch the mainstream media is with the experience and priorities of the working class.

For example, a recent “budget breakdown” published by CNBC included $615 a month for a “donations” category, while allocating $130 per month for transportation.

With gas prices  and insurance prices on a steep upswing, $130 per month is an underestimation of monthly costs and only possible for those who aren’t leasing or still paying on their vehicle.

More than 100 million people have auto loans in their names; it’s an omission that effects a one third of all Americans, presumably mostly working class Americans who need to take out loans in order to purchase vehicles.

CNBC also listed a $615 budget for ‘donations,’ perhaps forgetting that the working class doesn’t have superpacs to pay and politicians to pocket.

Other statistics being published by corporations pushing the narrative that market wages are livable are seen as insulting by the antiwork community.

4. Antiwork is a harbinger that more labor strikes are on the horizon and The Great Resignation has not peaked

In September 2021, national pollster Gallup reported that 68% of Americans support unions – a 56-year high. It’s an issue a solid majority of Americans agree on. President Biden ran on the platform that he would be the ‘most pro-union president’ in history.

One of the top posts in the r/antiwork subreddit’s history is from the John Deere employee strike. Specifically, the r/antiwork post was the announcement that John Deere had agreed to the employee’s demands after a five-week holdout despite reporting record revenue to shareholders in earnings reports.

The ongoing growth of Reddit’s antiwork subreddit suggests the John Deere strike is only the beginning.

The forum hosts numerous active discussions around labor strikes and consumer boycotts that draw in thousands of people.

Over the last two months, the community regularly talked about striking on Black Friday. Additionally, community users also encouraged consumers to avoid spending on Black Friday, a day many businesses rely on to meet earning expectations.

Amazon – a company that has long been in the spotlight for its labor practices – faced strikes at numerous facilities on Black Friday 2021. To escalate matters, Amazon depots in the U.K., Germany, and the Netherlands were blocked by climate activist group Extinction Rebellion by blocking entrances with protestors. Though Extinction Rebellion doesn’t have any express connections with r/antiwork, its protest coinciding with r/antiwork’s labor strike resulted in over 25 Amazon facilities being impacted by protests on one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

Presently, discussions around organizing a McDonald’s labor strike and boycott have found their way to the community’s top post several times over the last few weeks. McDonald’s could very well be the next massive American corporation to be forced to the table to negotiate better terms with its workforce.

McDonalds labor unionization and boycott posster from Reddit's antiwork
Credit: u/AbilityDirect via Reddit r/antiwork

Considering the outcomes labor strikes such as John Deere’s were able to generate for employees, corporations may consider preempting the bad publicity and operational difficulties by upping wages of their employees voluntarily.

What the mainstream media always fail to mention is that companies who bring the labor force to the table first – not the other way around – can leverage the current climate to their advantage by willingly increasing worker pay and benefits. Additionally, companies that preempt a labor strike will also have the advantage of being able to select from a larger pool of qualified talent for their operational needs.

Sometimes cutting costs can cost more in the long run in indirect ways. Recruiting, hiring, training, promoting job posts, and hiring bonuses are all costs of employee turnover than many businesses seem to forget when they dig their heels in about giving their already recruited, hired, and trained employees a raise.

R/antiwork’s growth is one of several gauges of workforce sentiment. That means that as of now, discontentment is growing. If the antiwork subreddit is any indicator, we should expect to see more labor strikes and boycotts to improve worker conditions and pay in the near future. Companies struggling to find talent or retain employees can learn a lot from the stories shared and organization efforts on r/antiwork if they really want to fix the problems in their businesses and avoid having their employees joining The Great Resignation.

5. r/antiwork is an evolution of a sentiment years in the making

Though r/antiwork’s explosive growth has primarily happened over the last year, the brewing sentiment of dissatisfaction with our current economic system has been widespread for several years longer.

Another community, r/LateStageCapitalism, has similar themes to r/antiwork. The main difference is that r/LateStageCapitalism’s content centers around dystopian point of view of American society at large as opposed to antiwork’s focus on the current state of the labor force and the Great Resignation.

It’s hard not to see the parallels. r/LateStageCapitalism is full of posts with comedic undertones and poignant critiques of modern capitalism which has seemingly gone into hyperdrive since the beginning of the pandemic.

If there is an upside to all of this, it’s this: Americans aren’t as divided as the mainstream media wants the people to think. In fact, the content of subreddit communities like r/antiwork and r/LateStageCapitalism routinely host meaningful discourse between people from all sides of the political spectrum.

They agree on this: Something about our modern economic systems is deeply flawed – and we’re on our own to fix it. Politicians and media are only here to distract or keep us divided instead of working together to come up with solutions.

Americans are coming to better understand the rhetoric and tactics used to control the narrative and keep the appearance of polarity in tact. They understand that one of the greatest tools in their box is for people to avoid talking to each other out of perpetual fear, manufactured outrage, and the belief that differences between people are enough to outweigh their shared struggles.

The less productive discourse there is between real people, the less power they have in the world they live in.

But the more people focus on their shared challenges and similarities – despite their differences – the more cases of the John Deere labor strike there can be in the future.

With the Great Resignation still clocking inclines in numbers month over month and the r/antiwork subreddit’s growth currently logging almost 10,000 new subscribers per day, something will have to change.

Author

  • Tanja Fijalkowski is an award-winning writer, editor, and designer. A North Bay Area native, she has written for various financial, business, history, and science publications. She's a deep-dive researcher with a strong command of data analysis and simplifying complex concepts.

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