Nobody wants to work anymore
The sun sets on rising and grinding.
Written in my pajamas laying horizontal on the couch. —Kate
When we learned that nofilter, the publication that preceded my Embedded adventure with Nick, would be shutting down, I had a moment of shock, and then something totally unexpected: overwhelming relief. Not because I hated working on nofilter. I had just come to hate working, period.
With little else to occupy my thoughts during the pandemic, my self-worth had become more closely linked with my work than ever before. I was taking daily walks to suppress panic attacks brought on by realizing I’d need to do something pretty normal, like push a deadline or change a story angle. When I finally did produce anything, I’d let the clicks and the retweets determine how satisfied I was allowed to feel about myself—and unsurprisingly, no number was ever enough for me to not see how I could have done better. How I, as a person, could be better.
This spring, a meme began popping up on Twitter after a series of similar signs appeared on the doors of businesses across the U.S: “nobody wants to work anymore.” According to these signs, local and chain restaurants like McDonalds and Sonic were short-staffed because employees simply stopped showing up. This prompted discussion about poor pay, subpar working conditions, and unemployment benefits. But the no-work movement appears to span all income brackets.
Last month, The New York Times published a piece (unfortunately) headlined “Welcome to the YOLO Economy.” It was roundly mocked for featuring a number of wealthy former tech employees who had racked up savings during the pandemic and were using them to take time off. I was frustrated by this framing, especially because the NYT would later go on to publish a report about long working hours contributing to premature death. I have to imagine that over-productivity and lack of work-life balance was a contributing factor for at least one of the tech workers featured in the piece, and that would have been a much more validating read than “oops, too much money.”
Yesterday, in his newsletter Galaxy Brain, Charlie Warzel wrote a piece titled “It’s Time For A Summer Slowdown” arguing in support of companies providing employees with actionable ways to take a break over the next few months.
“All of us are emerging from the darkest days of the pandemic with a good deal of unprocessed trauma and a bone deep fatigue,” he writes. “Organizations have tried to acknowledge the difficulty of the moment—while also expecting their employees to continue working, with little to no fluctuation in actual productivity.”
For the piece, some of these fatigued employees offered suggestions ranging from “audio-only meeting days” to full months off. But Warzel goes on to echo something that resonated with me in Jenny Odell’s How To Do Nothing—a book I appropriately began reading the day after the nofilter news.
“The point of doing nothing, as I define it, isn’t to return to work refreshed and ready to be more productive,” Odell writes in the introduction. “But rather to question what we currently perceive as productive.”
For me, that means untangling productivity from being a means of determining whether or not I had a “good” day. It means learning to describe who I am without using any of my accomplishments. This is all still a work in progress, but it’s been validating to see the internet embrace a similar movement. Nobody wants to work anymore.