This subreddit will make you want to quit your job

Nearly one million people are connecting on r/antiwork to plan a burnout-free life.

by Roisin Lanigan
|
03 November 2021, 11:24am

Succession 

Remember during the pandemic when things were, like, just so bad and depressing, and we kept comforting each other by predicting how things would change for the better when life had returned to semi-normality? Remember how we kept predicting a summer of horny freedom, Roaring Twenties levels of socialising and debauchery and, one of the biggest predictions, a total overhaul of how we think about work. We floated utopian ideas of total remote flexibility, a new generation of digital nomads, a better work-life balance and even (what hubris!) a four-day week. Then the vaccines came, furlough ended, and for many employees, nothing really changed.

Bosses, HR departments and office leaseholders rejoiced as the workforce returned with unprecedented levels of burnout that led many to decide that actually, they’d had enough of their shitty, unchanging professional lives. The past few months saw the so-called Great Resignation, with 2.9% of the workforce quitting their jobs and almost one in four planning a change in role or career (in April alone, four million Americans walked out of their jobs, and in the first quarter of 2022, millions of Australians are expected to follow suit). In the process, The Great Resignation is sparking a labour shortage crisis, much to the dismay of bosses and HR departments and office leaseholders, and to the delight of around one million people on Reddit, who are dedicating themselves to pursuing a “take this job and shove it” way of life. 

For 967,000 people (and counting), the subreddit r/antiwork is a temple of anti-capitalism and a reminder that a new way of life can exist, thanks to a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put pressure on bosses that need labour more than their workforce need money. It is, the community description claims, 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 anti-work ideas, and want personal help with their own jobs [and] work-related struggles”. What that means in practice is that it’s a place for people to go and moan about work without being called lazy or entitled, or be reminded that they should be grateful for whatever role or position they’re currently in. Some of the most popular posts are screenshots of text conversations between bosses and employees where, after being asked to work overtime at late notice or cover shifts despite being sick, they simply quit. These kind of posts are liked by thousands, before being shared on other social media platforms and seen by millions more -- all sharing in the delicious vicarious thrill of indulging that imp of the perverse in every employee that wants to respond to every nagging request with “please immediately fuck off”. 

But living vicariously through other people’s impulse decisions isn’t the only reason why r/antiwork is so successful and beloved. The community is also an unexpected hub of anti-capitalist rhetoric and socialist discourse that advocates for a complete overhaul of the learned deference and individualism that dominates how we think and feel about our work lives. r/antiwork encourages its members to discuss salaries openly, push for the closing of unfair wage gaps, and have a greater respect for work-life balance by leaving work messages unread on days off, taxing the uber rich and organising trade union and social justice initiatives on company time. Even on a smaller level, the community teaches its members how to protect themselves in a society that exploits labour, whether that means taking every minute of their annually allocated time off, looking for other jobs and interviewing at them on company time, or simply ‘checking out’ while still collecting a paycheck from a job they previously worked hard for. 

Of course, in an online community this big, there will always be fake ‘fuck this job’ posts, and a quick scroll through some of the biggest, most meme-able boss text messages posted on Twitter and Instagram will reveal that many of them have indeed been debunked. Despite this, there's still an obvious catharsis in the sentiment behind them. Even as fake messages they are excruciatingly relatable to anyone who has typed, and then deleted, an angry message to their superior, before sending a milquetoast reply apologising and promising to complete whatever task is being asked of them right away. After all, there are plenty of faked interactions on the internet, but most of them are quickly outed in the comments as such, which dulls their impact. Certainly few of them resonate with as many people as much as the faux boss clapbacks from r/antiwork do.

And while its Gen Z and millennials that are often derided for being lazy or “not wanting to work” (to which many millennials and zoomers are beginning to reply, yes obviously, what is the problem), and who are credited with changing boundaries around work-life balance, what’s interesting is that the community is not divided along class or generational lines. There are just as many office workers crying out for a new way of life online as there are fast food workers, or bar staff, or waiters or teachers or warehouse workers. And just as many teenagers with no responsibilities walking out of their shitty jobs as there are grown-ups with kids, mortgages and cars. 

It’s hard to imagine that r/antiwork would capture our collective imagination in any other time period. While the subreddit was created all the way back in 2013, it only really picked up steam and attention in the later stages of the pandemic. The rhetoric espoused by the community is the antithesis of the burnout, live to work culture that permeated the entire workforce after it dominated Silicon Valley in the 2010s. That is maybe what makes it so exciting, refreshing, and -- for the millions of burnt out workers not trying to become the next Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs or Elon Musk -- so necessary. “What if I just… don’t?” reads one more succinct post on r/antiwork. I can’t stop thinking about it. Just… don’t! Just never do. Just nothing, forever. What a concept!

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