Home Live to Work or Work to Live? The Anti-work Revolution

Live to Work or Work to Live? The Anti-work Revolution

Do you know what German philosopher Karl Marx and American anarchist Bob Black have in common? 

Shared convictions such as the critique of work, its abolition, or opposition to meaningless work or to work in a capitalist system.

And you know who used their philosophy as the groundwork to act against the unhealthy emphasis on the importance of work? 

The anti-work community. You might not have heard of it, but it might just be the future of work

Recently, MyPerfectResume conducted a study to explore attitudes towards the movement and its followers. Here’s what was discovered.

The Secrets Behind Anti-work

In 2013, a group of job-haters created a subreddit dubbed “Antiwork: Unemployment for all, not just the rich!”. Driven by their job dissatisfaction, they decided to speak about poor working conditions, unsatisfactory wages, and the purpose of work. By sharing their own experience, they aimed to help those trapped and exploited in their jobs. 

Job dissatisfaction turned into a desire to change the system. With the economic situation changing for the worse, rising inflation, and wage stagnation, the community gradually gained more and more followers. Employees at some point realized that work wouldn’t love them back. Neither did their boss. So they stopped sacrificing their lives and quit their jobs, joining the anti-work movement. 

So, as of today, anti-work consists of about 1.8 million supporters. And it’s no longer just an online group on a popular forum. We’re dealing with a movement that changes the work system as we know it.

Anti-work in Numbers

According to the MyPerfectResume study, 69% of respondents knew that the anti-work community is active in the US. They were also more or less familiar with the theories they preach. That in itself should be a wake-up call to employers struggling with employee retention.

Also, 48% of research participants were members of the movement. Of all women taking part in the research, 48% belong to this community. The percentage of the men is the same, 48% were anti-work adherents. 

Interestingly membership varied according to education, with 58% of Master’s or Doctorate degree-holders claiming membership, compared to just 18% without a degree.

Anti-work also has its supporters amongst different regions. Amongst people living in the West, 59% admit being part of it. The numbers are smaller when it comes to the Southwest (48%), Northeast and Southeast (47%), or Midwest (39%). 

When it comes to seniority, its members are divided into two groups—people who joined the anti-work community 12 months ago or less (38%), and those who became its members 2 to 3 years ago (38%). The rest are members with 3 years or more of seniority in the anti-work ranks.

It’s also clear that anti-work isn’t t a marginal movement. This community will undoubtedly attract new members. 1 in 5 people who are not part of the anti-work movement intends to join it.

But why did they quit their jobs and decide to join the anti-work movement? 

  • Job dissatisfaction
  • Too many working hours for too little pay
  • Feeling like a slave to the economic system.

Sound familiar? As the anti-work movement proves, you’re not alone. 

You don’t necessarily have to subscribe to a particular theory to be an anti-work member.  Its members come from across the political spectrum, as you’ll discover soon.

Anti-work Theories in Practice

The anti-work movement is not a political party. Its members do not share one common, standardized, and predetermined view. Followers hold different views. Some believe in romantic ideals while others are more controversial in their convictions. But what they have in common is a negative work experience.

According to the survey:

  • 65% of respondents said they work only for financial reasons.
  • 60% concluded that a work-free life is achievable.
  • 54% believed that work is modern slavery. 
  • 53% wanted to abolish work. 
  • 48% doubted the purpose of work.

So why work at all if it makes us unhappy? 

Well, the research also proved that:

  • 73% were satisfied with their jobs.
  • 68% believed that work gives life meaning.
  • 66% agreed that lack of employment would negatively affect them.

So maybe something isn’t wrong with the work itself but with the system? Probably. And anti-work members noticed that. Behind the surface layer of work abolition, there is a protest against an abusive economic system designed to produce wealth for the few. There is an attempt to achieve a work-life balance.

After all, society does need people to be productive, carry out essential tasks, and be able to support themselves.

Are Politics Involved?

Yes, they are, but perhaps not in the way you’d expect.  Anti-work isn’t just a left-wing phenomenon.

Democrats, Republicans, and independent-leaning are all members of the anti-work movement. Despite differences in political views. As much as 53% of Democrats and 50% of Republican respondents said they’d joined anti-work. At the same time, only 36% of all independent-leaning respondents decided to do the same.

As Doreen Ford, moderator of the anti-work subreddit, once said: “We have people who are anarchists, people who are Communists, people who are social Democrats, people who like Bernie, people who like Andrew Yang … there’s lots of different kinds of leftists.”

But they still don’t agree, even when it comes to anti-work theories. 

For example, 56% of Democrats and 48% of Republicans “would join strikes that support the theories of anti-work,” while only 36% of independent-leaning would do so.

While 58% of Democrats and 54% of Republicans believe that “we should advocate for the abolition of work,” only 36% of independent-leaning agree.

76% of Democrats and 74% of Republicans admit that “work is a value itself.” This belief is also shared by 60% of independent respondents.

It seems like independent-leaning respondents are most skeptical about anti-work. Compared to Republicans or Democrats, they are the most critical about anti-work. However, at the same time, they aren’t convinced that work is a value in and of itself. 

But perhaps their skepticism comes from the present-day economic conditions or work-centered societies.

Either way, no one can deny that diversity of opinion is critical.

The Power of Work Satisfaction

Many factors contribute to job satisfaction, including salary, personal growth, recognition, possibilities of promotion, and working culture. Employee satisfaction is an essential ingredient of every well-prepared retention program. Why? Because satisfied and happy employees don’t quit their jobs. And therefore, they are less willing to join the anti-work movement. 

Can we describe the level of work satisfaction of American workers as relatively high? Of course. And surprisingly, the respondents were satisfied with their jobs. 

Take a look at some statistics. 77% of survey-takers liked their job, 75% maintained a healthy work-life balance, while 73% declared their job satisfies them. 

At the same time, 68% believed that work gives life meaning, while 64% admitted they care about their career fulfillment. Moreover, 64% were also satisfied with their monthly salary.

The survey-takers probably wouldn’t plan to change their job, a much better opportunity arose.

However, it doesn’t mean that they would not change jobs. Because they would if:

  • The boss/manager was toxic (73%).
  • The job disrupted work-life balance (64%).
  • The job stopped giving satisfaction (58%).

Changing jobs isn’t always all about the money. Sometimes it’s about the company environment or the degree of mental comfort within it.

Even if we don’t see it at first glance, work actually provides value and meaning. Career fulfillment makes us feel proud. Work allows for social interaction and therefore fulfills our social needs.

Further Considerations

Research on anti-work may give us clues into the general population’s broader opinions and perceptions of work. And for sure, it proved something, as it showed that people’s job satisfaction levels vary and therefore influence their anti-work sentiments. Our motivation to abolish work is not laziness or lack of ambitions. Anti-work underlines that “We’re not against the effort, labor, or being productive. We’re against jobs as they are structured under capitalism and the state: Against exploitative economic relations, against hierarchical social relations at the workplace.”

Is there one particular recipe for work-related happiness? Probably not, but there are some great pieces of advice. 

As Steve Jobs said, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it”.

Let’s get to work on that recipe.

About ReadWrite’s Editorial Process

The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

Nina Paczka
Career Advisor

Nina is a career advisor and job search expert. Her professional advice, insight, and guidance help people find a satisfying job and pursue a career.

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