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Jenny Baker
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“Nobody Wants to Work Anymore”: Reflecting on I-O Psychology’s Assumptions and Values Through the Lens of the Antiwork Movement

Rebecca M. Brossoit, Louisiana State University, & Jacqueline R. Wong, Colorado State University

The antiwork movement provides a unique framework for I-O psychologists to consider their core assumptions and values about work and organizations. The antiwork movement is rooted in Marxist, socialist, anarchist, and feminist philosophies that critique capitalism and power in relation to work (Frayne, 2011; Seyferth, 2019; Shuster, 2022; Weeks, 2011). This movement calls attention to issues related to exploitative organizational practices that prioritize profit over people, inequities at work, and grind/hustle culture. Ultimately, the aim of the antiwork movement is to “problematize work as we know it today” (Reddit, 2022). However, the specific goals of the antiwork movement are broad and vary from shifting ideologies about the prioritization of work, to improving working conditions and workers’ rights, to abolishing work and organizations altogether. On Reddit, the r/antiwork subreddit community has 2.4 million members,1 and they describe their viewpoints as: “We’re not against effort, labor, or being productive. We’re against jobs as they are structured under capitalism and the state: Against economic relations, against hierarchical social relations at the workplace.” In this way, the notion that “nobody wants to work anymore,” may be better rephrased as “nobody wants to work like this anymore.” The antiwork movement, and particularly the subreddit associated with it, has gained significant attention over the last 2 years, as evidenced in news headlines (e.g., Aratani, 2021; Blair, 2022; Codrea-Rado, 2021; Davies, 2021; Flynn, 2022; Goldberg, 2021; Hunt, 2021; Majoo, 2021, O’Connor, 2022; Olivas, 2022, Pirnay, 2021; Todd, 2021) and across social media platforms.

The apparent absence of literature or discussions of antiwork within I-O psychology research and practice is surprising given our field’s focus on work and organizations. Therefore, we believe it is worthwhile for I-O psychologists to be aware of, and involved in, antiwork conversations. We recognize the relevant (though not explicitly “antiwork”) existing literature that has been engaged in noteworthy discussions of capitalism, power, and critical theory in I-O (e.g., Baritz, 1960; Gerard, 2017; Islam & Sanderson, 2022; Mumby, 2019; Woo et al., 2021). To build upon this, we offer reflection questions, informed by antiwork viewpoints and broader critical theory, for I-O psychologists to ponder and discuss. These questions are intended to stimulate critical thinking about our personal ideologies and assumptions about work and to help us clarify the professional identity of I-O psychologists and the field of I-O psychology.

  • How do antiwork ideas (e.g., critiques of capitalism, who holds power, and status quos in organizational practices and treatment of workers) impact I-O psychologists?
    • In what ways do antiwork ideas challenge I-O psychology research and practice? What would the field of I-O look like if work was restructured to deemphasize capital/profit? What role does I-O psychology research and practice play within the antiwork movement?
  • What is the purpose of work in the 21st century? (Hyland, 2023)
    • Why do we work—collectively and individually? Is the purpose of work to survive (i.e., meet basic needs)? To attain status or power? To provide meaning? To derive joy? Can these purposes be fulfilled through other means? If so, how does that change work? Who benefits from work?
  • Why is work structured the way it is (e.g., hours, days of the week, modality)?
    • Who decides how work is structured? Who benefits from this structure? What would alternative structures look like?
  • Do we expect everyone to work? (e.g., Mumby, 2019)
    • What assumptions do we hold about individuals who do not work? For whom is it socially acceptable to be unemployed? In what ways do those who choose not to work contribute to society? Is working the best way to contribute to society?
  • What type of work do we value? (e.g., Ashforth & Kriener, 1999; Duffy, 2007)
    • Who decides what type of work is valued? How is valued work rewarded? Who decides how it is rewarded? How do we view volunteer work, homecare tasks, or other forms of unpaid labor?
  • What is the purpose of rest? (e.g., Hersey, 2022)
    • Who is allowed to rest? When is rest discouraged or stigmatized? Is rest a human right?
  • What is the purpose of organizations?
    • Is the purpose of organizations to build profit? To benefit workers? To improve societal conditions (i.e., for the Earth and its inhabitants)? Who benefits from organizations?
  • Who holds power in organizations? (e.g., Fleming & Spicer, 2007; Fleming & Spicer, 2014; Magee & Galinsky, 2008)
    • Where does power come from? Can power be distributed differently or more equitably? What do organizations owe their workers? What do workers owe their organization?

Beyond these reflection questions, there are also unique antiwork research questions that I-O psychologists are equipped to answer, ideally with collaboration and input from others with relevant experience (e.g., labor unions, workers) and expertise (e.g., scholars in sociology, anthropology, philosophy, communications, feminist studies, and/or political science), some of whom have already made headway on studying the movement and related areas like resistance in organizations (e.g., Fleming, 2015; Fleming & Spicer, 2010; Frayne, 2011, 2015; Mumby, 2005; Seyferth, 2019; Shuster, 2022; Spicer & Fleming, 2016; Weeks, 2011). Research-related questions stemming from the antiwork movement may include:

  • How is the antiwork movement related to other recent labor-related phenomena, such as large-scale strikes, the Great Resignation, and quiet quitting? (e.g., Olivas, 2022; Shuster, 2022)
  • How is the antiwork movement related to broader societal issues, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, economic conditions, climate change, and political unrest? (e.g., Aratani, 2021)
  • How can theory help us understand the antiwork movement? What theories are relevant to antiwork (e.g., critical theory, equity theory, ERG theory, resistance theory)?
  • How does the antiwork movement fit into, or contrast with, I-O topic areas related to vocational interests, calling, meaningful work, burnout, or organizational commitment?
  • In what ways can antiwork viewpoints and philosophies influence industries, organizational practices (e.g., reconsideration of policies, procedures, or treatment of workers), and/or employees (e.g., cynicism, turnover)?

Conclusion

We view the antiwork movement as a noteworthy sociohistorical event that is prompting critical thinking, conversations, and questions that are relevant to the field of I-O psychology. Specifically, we believe that reflecting on these questions will help us, as individuals and as a collective field, be more intentional about shaping the world of work we envision. I-Os can use the antiwork movement as a framework for contemplating their assumptions and values, for developing unique and timely research questions, and for thinking creatively and flexibly about the purpose of modern work and organizations.

Note

[1]As pointed out by a reviewer, it is impossible to guarantee that all members of the subreddit community can be authenticated or share similar views of antiwork.

References

Aratani, L. (2021, November 28). Goodbye to the job: How the pandemic changed Americans’ attitude toward work. https://www.theguardian.com/money/2021/nov/28/goodbye-to-job- how-the-pandemic-changed-americans-attitude-to-work

Ashforth, B. E., & Kreiner, G. E. (1999). “How can you do it?”: Dirty work and the challenge of constructing a positive identity. Academy of Management Review, 24(3), 413-434.

Baritz, L. (1960). The servants of power: A history of the use of social science in American industry. Wesleyan University Press. https://doi.org/10.1037/11283-000

Blair, D. (2022, January 26). Meet the 1.6 million “redditors” who want to abolish work. https://www.dailysignal.com/2022/01/26/meet-1-6-million-redditors-who-want-to-        abolish-work/

Codrea-Rado, A. (2021, December 22). Inside the online movement to end work. https://www.vice.com/ en/article/y3vwjw/inside-the-online-movement-to-end-work-antiwork-sub-reddit

Davies, P. (2021, November 25). Reddit’s r/antiwork subreddit is boycotting Black Friday and e-commerce giants such as Amazon. https://www.euronews.com/next/2021/11/25/reddit-s-r-antiwork-subreddit-is-boycotting-black-friday-and-e-commerce-giants-such-as-ama

Duffy, M. (2007). Doing the dirty work: Gender, race, and reproductive labor in historical perspective. Gender & Society, 21(3), 313-336.

Fleming, P. (2015). Resisting work: The corporatization of life and its discontents. Temple University Press.

Fleming, P., & Spicer, A. (2010). Contesting the corporation: Struggle, power and resistance in organizations. Cambridge University Press.

Fleming, P., & Spicer, A. (2014). Power in management and organization science. Academy of Management Annals, 8(1), 237-298.

Flynn, S. (2022, January 27). The Reddit antiwork saga–and whether there’s really a world without jobs. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/antiwork-quit-job-pandemic-reddit-b2002265.html

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Gerard, N. (2017). Handmaidens to capitalism. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 10(3), 410–414.

Goldberg, E. (2021, December 4). Public displays of resignation: Saying “i quit” loud and proud. https://web.archive.org/web/20211204101013/https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/04/business/public-resignation-quitting.html

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