In September of 1999, I was a freshmen in high school. That year, my school allowed students to go off-campus for lunch. Me and my friend, Ashlee, would hop in her white Honda Civic and drive to her house as we blasted music from her car’s cheap speakers. Avril Lavigne. Foo Fighters. We were borderline obsessed with the jam, “All The Small Things” by Blink-182. We’d screamed the song’s lyrics at the top of our lungs- “Work sucks, I know!” Oh baby, Andrea… Did you really know?
I’ve been working since my late teens. I enjoyed many of these roles but I also hated a large number of them. I’ve had terrific bosses and some terrible ones. I love what I do now, getting to write and be creative for a living (I get to write about sex!). I’m fortunate. I do know that not everyone has the luxuries that I was blessed with- I had parents that pushed the value of education on me. I have a college degree. I’ve done multiple internships and freelance opportunities. Fuck, even having a job. Every morning, I listen to the headlines of the day; lately, there is always another story about another industry giant laying off a percentage of its workforce. On Twitter, I follow several hashtags that link to various unions and working-class watch groups complaining about job loss and poor working conditions. I read about ongoing worker strikes domestically and abroad (note our French counterparts). At least once a week, I have a conversation with someone about how our national minimum wage hasn’t increased in 13 years.
Over the last couple of years, workers in various industries have come to understand their value in the workplace and began to fight for better rights. The pandemic exposed deep inequalities: low wages, a lack of paid sick leave, requirements to be in customer-facing environments with inadequate workplace safety measures and more. Workers are burnt out and are facing mental health issues with the lack of respect and benefits they’re receiving. People are quitting their jobs by the masses in various industries after asking for better pay and benefits, better hours and working conditions (the media has dubbed this as the Great Resignation). Others are rejecting the hustle and are only fulfilling their basic work responsibilities (“quiet quitting“). The anti-work movement rapidly growing as people are finding ways to make just enough money to get by so they will have more leisure time, rather than working long hours to earn more. People of the movement understand that a good percentage of jobs are structured under the guise capitalism and the state, and may not be a necessity to the success of our society. We have finally realized that we deserve better.
Growing up, we millennials heard that if you work hard, you will get everything you could ever dream of- the large salary (to buy the dream car and house), the cushy office, the status and everything that goes with it, including respect from your peers and superiors. While there is some truth to that, there are systematic biases and prejudices that hinder work opportunities for people of color, women, the poor and the disabled. There is a steadily rising class consciousness that has been spurred on by severe wealth inequality between the rich (owners, CEOS, managers and the like) and workers. Take Amazon CEO, for example, Andy Jassy, and his comments about unions. As a child of the 80s, I grew up hearing that unions were not beneficial and a waste of an employee’s money. I now believe otherwise, and note Jassy’s many privileges (being a white, educated, wealthy, able-bodied male) that most definitely helped him rise to his position. Identifying the source of such bias in your workplace is key to creating lasting change.
We’re experiencing an unprecedented shake-up in terms of how workers do their jobs and the kind of conditions they’re expecting from employers in return. It’s clear many workers are at their breaking points. We’re tired of being exploited and being treated essentially as cattle, working until our legs give out before we’re brought to slaughter. But now what? There are changes that need to be made but how do we start? What can we do to make our voices feel heard?
As employees, unions do help- some employees are fixing the inequities by organizing, striking or standing up. The public is boycotting products by large conglomerates- 57% of buyers are willing to spend more on products or services from a company that’s known to be socially responsible (inflation is hindering this percentage but please continue to support businesses that support their workers!). Each one of our jobs is affected by our government officials so vote and support candidates that align with your career goals. Use your voice to encourage/discourage future laws and initiatives (I think about the Pregnant Workers Fairness law that will go in effect this summer- I want to see paid maternity and paternity leave!).
If you’re looking for a new role- remember that you hold the power. Ask for that salary, about those benefits and that PTO. Pay attention to the job postings that don’t lay out all the job responsibilities and the salary amount (there are emerging pay transparency laws, requiring employers to state salary ranges in job descriptions in states like California and Colorado). When you’re interviewing for a new role, ask the difficult questions- remember that you’re interviewing the company in the same manner they’re interviewing you. If you’re stuck in the weeds at your current position, ask yourself if you’re receiving the right treatment.
As businesses owners and those leaders in management, you must do more than listening to your employees to make them feel valued and heard. Take action by fixing actual complaints. Believe employees when they get sexually or racially harassed. The bare minimum is not working anymore. We don’t feel safe at work. Employees don’t only want to make a paycheck (and healthcare, work/life balance…); they also want to grow and expand their skill set. Offering the opportunity to employees to develop new skills is a solution for employers hoping to remain competitive in the market and increase the efficiency of their current team. Another thing to consider is improving your Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) practices, especially when trying to attract and retain workers of color (DEI and mental health initiatives and departments are often the first to go in organizational layoffs and restructurings). With such DEI initiatives, look at nontraditional candidates when hiring. Many of the most valuable skills in today’s economy can be applied to a number of different roles.
The modern workplace is constantly evolving, constantly under siege by economic changes, tech developments, talent scarcity, an exhausted workforce, globalization and the remnants of the pandemic. As we venture further into 2023, it’s imperative for organizations to focus on progress and its employees’ professional and personal well-being, mental health and becoming more creative with compensation. For those in the throw of of the daily grind, keep flighting the (good) fight. Keep demanding for the respect and compensation that you deserve. Being anti-work doesn’t mean that you have to be lazy or unproductive. It simply means that you want to have more control over your time and your life at the place where we spend most of our week.