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From ‘Antiwork' to ‘Act Your Wage' — More Disgruntled Workers Flocked to Reddit in 2022

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In the past year, movements like "the Great Resignation," "quiet quitting" and "bai lan" have become hot topics, prompting many employees to reexamine what work means to them.

More of such conversations have been taking place on Reddit, according to statistics from the social news aggregator.

The top trending keywords among work-related subreddits or communities in 2022 include "antiwork," "act your wage" and "quiet quitting," Reddit told CNBC Make It. 

"Antiwork" — a term that loosely refers to those who "want to get the most out of a work-free life" and are "curious about ending work" — saw a 104% year-on-year increase from September 2021.

"Act your wage" — like quiet quitting, it's a call for workers not to go above and beyond for their jobs — saw a 95% year-on-year increase in the same period. 

"Redditors" submit posts about work attitudes and experiences on work-related communities, asking for or giving general life and career advice.

"These communities are similar in their pursuit of unique approaches to uncovering, understanding and managing workplace happiness," said Rob Gaige, Reddit's head of "global insights."

"People have experienced unprecedented change after living and working through the pandemic. For example, Gen Z is the top age demographic on the platform, and their curiosities about the new normal are driving them to communities ... for answers," he added. 

'HR is often a dead end'

Recent trends like quiet quitting indicate that employees are "increasingly re-evaluating" their roles, said workplace psychologist and behavioral expert Natalie Baumgartner. 

"We know people are feeling increasingly overwhelmed in the workplace and are being asked to do more with less," she added. 

"The reality is that the general sense of dissatisfaction by employees in the work world is heightened, and employees are looking for a way to get their grievances and concerns aired – whether or not management is checking for feedback." 

Experts CNBC Make It spoke to said that the "best way" to resolve workplace issues is to report them directly to the organization or an immediate manager. 

However, Dee C. Marshall, the CEO of Diverse & Engaged, said that both options have unfortunately "failed today's workers." 

"When an employee has raised concerns or issues in the past following protocol, they often talk to someone who can't identify with them … they're talking to someone ill-equipped to manage, lead, or make positive changes," Marshall added.

"Escalating matters through the appropriate channels like HR is often a dead end." 

"There's even the potential for retaliation when exposing concerns and issues around working conditions and/or requesting appropriate accommodation not limited to losing your job."

Baumgartner agreed, saying that for most people, workplace issues aren't addressed.

According to research from the Achievers Workforce Institute, for example, only 14% of employees strongly agree that their company regularly seeks feedback on important issues, she added.

Stress relief

In light of that, turning to online forums like Reddit can be a form of stress relief or a source of validation when it comes to problems at work.

"They may receive empathy and the acknowledgment of a shared experience — which may alleviate at least some of their frustration," Baumgartner added. 

"These communities may feel like a safe space from management where employees can get other perspectives on how others approached similar situations." 

According to Allen Wong, a moderator for the subreddit r/fatFIRE, the platform allows members to "speak freely without fear of retaliation," which one may get outside of the subreddit or in the real world. 

"FIRE" is an acronym for "financial independence, retire early," a term popularized by those aiming to retire early by living off investments or savings rather than a salary, Wong said. 

"The anonymity of Reddit allows redditors to discuss topics that are often seen as taboo at the workplace or at the dinner table," said the app developer, who is in his mid-thirties. 

"For example, discussions about finances, salary, or quitting with coworkers might backfire on them if it causes them to be passed over for a future promotion or job opportunity."  

Take advice 'with a grain of salt'

While discussing workplace issues on Reddit can have a "cathartic effect," it's not the best place to have "in-depth, professional conversations" about grievances, said Ben Porr, Harver's global vice president for people science. 

Wong, likewise, cautioned that advice on Reddit should still be taken "with a grain of salt." 

"Oftentimes, the comments do not come from professionals or officials who may have more expertise on the subjects," he said. 

"It's not uncommon for redditors to tell other redditors that ... they should seek a therapist, doctor, or tax accountant for advice instead."

Baumgartner agreed, saying that workers engaging in conversations on Reddit need to be aware that they're "not necessarily going to receive best practices."

"People in these forums don't have full situational context, so advice will not be well-informed … they should be sure to evaluate the suggestions they receive within the context of their own situation." 

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"Most people still say they feel more comfortable providing feedback through a survey as opposed to through a manager, so anonymized feedback tools like surveys are critical here," said Baumgartner.

She added that though it's tempting to find a place where one can commiserate with other frustrated individuals, one should remain vigilant when seeking advice on Reddit. 

"There should be caution in how general feelings of dissatisfaction may add to one's frustration – amplifying the feeling – and affect desires to find a resolution or distort behavioral outcomes in their approach to their work issues." 

Onus is on employers

While workers should first approach employers with grievances, experts said the onus is on companies to be "diligent in empowering employees" to give feedback. 

"Most people still say they feel more comfortable providing feedback through a survey as opposed to through a manager, so anonymized feedback tools like surveys are critical here," Baumgartner said. 

"This means managers need to be intentional about asking for feedback and asking how they can support their teams, gathering feedback in a variety of ways to ensure employees are able to communicate their needs in a manner that is comfortable to them."

In addition, rising levels of dissatisfaction at work highlight the critical need to engage workers "prior to ... employment," Porr said. 

That includes giving them a clear understanding and realistic preview of the job and company culture. 

"By setting expectations during the interview, organizations will hire candidates who are excited and are the right fit for the role, allowing candidates who are not excited for the job to opt out early," he added.

"While this doesn't eliminate workplace frustrations, this does holistically increase tenure and overall employee engagement." 

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