Wake up. Work. Sleep. Repeat. 5 days a week, 50 some weeks a year. Such is the life of an average employee in Canada trying to get by in the face of ever-increasing inflation and an uncertain economy. For some, a 9-5 job provides stability and security in their lives, offering structure to an otherwise chaotic life. For others, the mundane and unfair tasks demanded during day-to-day work combined with the financial discrepancy between the oligarchy and the working class serve to disenfranchise one’s view of the working system as we know it.
This is the case for many subscribers of the subreddit, r/antiwork, an online community comprising of a conglomerate of like-minded working-class individuals disgruntled about their jobs and working conditions. Boasting over 1.7 million members, this burgeoning community has burst into the public sphere spurred on by a wave of worker dissatisfaction during the COVID-19 pandemic. Popular posts in this online forum receive upwards of 100,000 “upvotes” and thousands of comments centering around one main point – people want systemic change.
At its core, the myriad of issues presented in r/antiwork can be boiled down to a few topics, namely the presence of overbearing upper management, undesirable working conditions, discrepancies in worker salaries, and uncontrollable inflation. The first three topics deal with the financial and power gap that exists between upper management and the working class, while the latter is a commentary on the hopelessness many millennials and generations thereafter feel about the state of the economy and financial markets as a whole. Although these issues are not unique to the current working generation, they do present a growing realization that change is warranted and necessary for future productivity.
First and foremost, workers are sick of unfair treatment coming from their supervisors. A number of the subreddit’s posts consist of text or email chains highlighting abusive behaviour of bosses towards their employees. Commonplace are demands for workers to come into work outside of their scheduled shifts, workers being fired for seemingly ridiculous reasons, and unreasonable workloads and deadlines requested by employers. It is no wonder that the rate of American workers quitting their jobs was at an all-time high in late 2021, particularly in the accommodation and food services industry where this abuse of power appears to be more common.
Along with these accounts of workplace mismanagement, another common source of discontent comes from the recent push to return to the office and reduce work-from-home shifts by employers due to waning pandemic restrictions. Many posters swear by the notion that their productivity is similar or improved at home compared to at work, citing an increase in comfort and mental health being the driving forces behind higher productivity. Surveys from Statistics Canada seem to back this claim, with 58% and 32% of remote workers indicating similar and more productivity at home, respectively. Nevertheless, many employers are urging a return to the office, presenting another disconnect between upper management and their employees.
Additional issues brought up in r/antiwork primarily revolve around the large wage discrepancy that exists between workers and their employers. According to a report by the Economic Policy Institute, CEO’s can make over 350 times more than the average worker, with the salaries of top management increasing over 1000% versus 18% for the typical worker since the 1970s. Many r/antiwork members comment about this unbalanced distribution of wages, resonating with the opinion that workers should be more fairly compensated for their efforts. Posters decry companies hoarding profits rather than paying employees, express frustration over competitors offering better pay, and discuss about how workers are being paid below the realistic cost of living. One popular post featuring a piece by cartoonist Nick Anderson aptly summarizes the overwhelming sentiment on wage disparity. The cartoon shows a worker protesting for a higher minimum wage being ironically lambasted for being too greedy by a CEO standing on a pile of money, presenting a satirical commentary on wage gaps. Overall, workers simply feel like they aren’t being paid enough, and the stats seem to back up this sentiment.
Perhaps what makes low salaries more unpalatable for the average worker is the rising threat of inflation and its effect on the economy. Dealing with soaring gas and grocery prices that have only been exacerbated by the distribution of financial stimulus provided by governments across the world during the pandemic, workers are finding it increasingly hard to live paycheck to paycheck. Indeed, the American Consumer Price Index (which provides a weighted average of the cost of consumer goods and services) increased by 7% last year compared to about 5% increase for the average American salary, indicating that inflation is outpacing wage increases. And workers are feeling it. With expensive groceries, overpriced gas, and rising rent and living costs, the current working generation can barely get by, let alone save up for retirement. This lack of control over financial stability and overall economic uncertainty contributes to the feelings of despair and frustration workers have over their working situations, providing an additional explanation for the anti-work movement.
At the end of the day, r/antiwork is not a group of lazy people that don’t want to work. Rather, it’s a movement that highlights the perceived growing injustices that the working class has to experience in their daily lives. With that being said, studies have shown that morale and worker satisfaction have a major effect on productivity, suggesting that accommodating the front line may actually be an effective way to boost profits. So what can be done to alleviate the negative morale and frustrations workers harbor in their jobs?
Several groups have offered suggestions on how to improve worker satisfaction. Cultivating a supportive climate that promotes encouragement of hard work and personal achievement can go a long way in remedying some of the complaints that the average worker has. As such, enrolling supervisors and managers in courses that build interpersonal communication, management, and leadership skills can be quite effective in fostering an efficient and motivated workplace environment. Furthermore, implementing bonuses and incentives for hardworking employees to bridge payroll gaps and offering inflation-matched compensation can help to encourage productivity and reduce any financial anxieties workers may face in an uncertain economy. Overall, much can and needs to be done to change the ever-growing negative sentiment the current working generation has towards work, and the best way to start is from the top down.
8.Shaban, O.S. (2017). The Effect of Low Morale and Motivation on Employees’ Productivity & Competitiveness in Jordanian Industrial Companies. International Business Research, 10(7).https://doi.org/10.5539/ibr.v10n7p1
9.Weakliem, D.L. (2006). Morale and Workplace Performance. Work and Occupations, 33(3), 335-361. https://doi.org/10.1177/0730888406290054
10. Martin, A. J. (2005). The role of positive psychology in enhancing satisfaction, motivation, and productivity in the workplace. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 24(1-2), 113–133. https://doi.org/10.1300/j075v24n01_07
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