r/antiwork started as a small corner of far-left Reddit. Then the liberals came.
Penny’s cousin had been telling her for years that work was a conspiracy. She’d send Penny links about how working from morning to night, day in and day out, was an outdated byproduct of industrialization—a system designed for the purpose of extracting as much value as possible from laborers on the assembly line. She’d make the case that in an ideal world, no one would need to work to survive.
“She used to say to me how she was anti how hard I worked at my job,” Penny said. Penny, a 26-year-old copywriter from the UK who asked that we use a pseudonym for privacy reasons, brushed it aside. She was in her early 20s, a self-described “type A” personality at the start of an exciting career at a creative agency.
By the time she was 25, however, her relationship with work started to unravel. She felt unsupported at her job, where she’d put in long hours with little recognition from her managers. “Being good at my job, I was rewarded with—drum-roll—even more work,” she said.
Then the pandemic hit. With business slowing down and a lot of free time to fill, Penny took up sewing as a hobby and started using Reddit to look up tips and tricks. Logging on to her main feed, she began seeing recommended posts from one of the site’s fastest-growing subreddits: r/antiwork. There, she saw users give voice to thoughts she thought she’d been alone in having, like how absurd it was to continue giving your all to a job that doesn’t give back what you are putting in.
It sounded a lot like what her cousin had been trying to tell her. But it wasn’t until she stumbled upon a random meme on the forum—a grainy image of a man applying clown makeup—that everything clicked: “Maybe if I work hard / Go above and beyond / Never use sick or vacation days / The company will notice and appreciate,” the caption read.
She saw herself in the clown. “It was a never-ending loop of just trying to get more output out of me rather than being genuinely invested in my career and growth,” she said of her job.