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Smart Businesses Are Paying Attention to Antiwork Forums

Reddit is known for being the front page of the Internet, although it’s not exactly a resource that comes to mind for business owners. But businesses may benefit from taking a page from a couple of subreddits whose popularity exploded during the pandemic.

Employees have flocked to the Antiwork subreddit, and more recently, the WorkReform subreddit, in the past year as the Great Resignation swept the country. The posts discuss egregious violations of workers rights as well as examples of workers standing up to their employers, some even sharing screenshots of the exchanges they had with bad bosses moments before quitting their roles. Other posts take aim at union busting efforts from large companies.

But it seems that there’s another segment of users who are following these posts as well: managers and those in leadership positions. One self-described senior manager posted last November that the subreddit changed their company…for the better. The senior manager shares that the firm’s revenue soared during the pandemic and that the business owner sought to reward the team. After following the Antiwork subreddit, the senior manager drafted a proposal that suggested a permanent 10 percent pay increase, more paid time off and optional work days to management. The proposal was eventually accepted, according to the anonymous poster. The user did not respond to Inc.‘s request for comment. 

Other companies are taking note. 

The Rochester, New York-based staffing and recruiting firm Career Start began to track the Antiwork subreddit last November. Its chief marketing and strategy officer, Ian Young, alerted the company’s founder and CEO, Lindsay McCutchen, about the ferment within the rank and file on the Antiwork subreddit and they’ve been following the forum since. They use the forum to try to better understand why people are leaving their jobs in such numbers–why is the Great Resignation so great? After analyzing the Antiwork and WorkReform subreddits, McCutchen saw room for improvement at her own company. 

One of the first changes to be implemented? The company hired a personal chef at its headquarters, who cooks breakfast, lunch and snacks each day for those who are onsite–and Career Start foots the bill. “We know that people have busy lives and busy schedules and they may not want to pack their food everyday or have this anxiety on what to eat,” McCutchen says. “Well now they don’t have to worry about it.”

Beyond adding a personal chef, the company is also revamping its review process–rather than holding a quarterly review, McCutchen says the company may hold reviews annually. The company is focused on soliciting feedback bottoms-up, as opposed to only top-down, according to McCutchen. “There’s a mechanism known as 360 Degree Reviews, where instead of managers providing feedback to their directs, employees provide feedback down to their directs, up to their supervisors, and laterally to their peers,” she adds. “We think this is an attractive model and are exploring migrating to that.”

The company isn’t stopping there. It’s now looking to shake up its future benefits pipeline. For example, Career Start is looking into increasing its cost of living stipends. Though the company has yet to land on an exact percentage, it’s in the range of seven to 11 percent. The company additionally plans to expand its education and training opportunities for its internal talent.  

After implementing some of these changes, McCutchen says she’s already seen retention rates improve. Their year-over-year attrition rate clocked in at under 15 percent, while the industry standard hovers between 35 to 45 percent, according to Young. The company has roughly 60 full-time internal employees, but they staff more than 6,500 W-2 employees across New York.

It all comes down to listening to the voice of the employee, they say.

“We have two giant forums that are actively providing that,” Young says. “It costs nothing to listen, all you have to do is show up. You don’t have to post– you just have to listen to what people are saying and respond with kindness.”

And people are speaking up. The Antiwork subreddit, which boasts more than 1.8 million members, grew more than 279 percent in subscribers between 2020 to 2021, making it one of the most popular Reddit communities last year, according to a Reddit spokesperson. 

But r/Antiwork isn’t without controversy: the subreddit shut down for a few days earlier this year after one of the moderators participated in an interview with Fox News that quickly went south. The shutdown led to the creation of the WorkReform subreddit, which now has more than 500,000 members. Moderators for the Antiwork forum declined to comment while moderators for the WorkReform forum did not respond to Inc.‘s requests for comment.

So why exactly did these forums become so popular last year, especially when the Antiwork subreddit was created around eight years ago?

Peter Bamberger, a professor at Tel Aviv University focusing on careers, organizational behavior and human resources, believes the tough conditions workers shouldered during the pandemic explains some of the popularity. 

“A lot of people were left out of the shift in the changing nature of work,” he says.” For them work didn’t change, it became more risky with no more reward than before.”

The Reddit forums also helped foster a sense of community for both frontline workers and remote workers. Bamberger adds that the high degree of isolation and sense of loneliness during the pandemic made work even more difficult. Research backs that claim up: a study authored by Hakan Ozcelik, of California State University, Sacramento, and Sigal Barsade, of the University of Pennsylvania, suggests that workplace loneliness negatively affects job performance.

The popularity of these forums also coincides with a voice of worker solidarity that’s been around for decades, even if it’s currently a diminished one: labor unions. Many Americans believe that unions positively affect the United States and that declining union membership is a negative for the country, according to a September study from the Pew Research Center. 

“Unions have always been built around a sense of occupational communities, so anything that enhances a sense of community reinforces trade unionism,” Bamberger explains. That can be as simple as voicing and gaining support from others, something commonly seen on these two subreddits. Recent organizing efforts at Starbucks and Amazon suggest that unions may still have more to say. 

Many employers are now wondering what’s next for the Great Resignation, a phenomenon that’s shown no signs of slowing down just yet. 

Though it’s unclear whether these subreddits can drive long-term change, they continue to amp the pressure for improving workers lives. Outlets such as these provide employers the answer to the question of what a healthy culture looks like, according to Christine J. Spadafor, a lecturer on strategic leadership at Dartmouth’s Tuck business school as well as Harvard’s schools for business, medicine and public health.

She explains that working in a hostile work environment is no longer okay– not that it ever was, though many tolerated toxic behaviors in the past. She also believes that the Great Resignation just might be able to drive a rethink on how the country views work relative to the rest of the world. 

“We in America very much have this ethos that we live to work, but I think the Great Resignation movement is more of a mindset about working to live,” Spadafor says. “And that I think is changing the complexion of work.”

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