Have you heard of the anti-work movement? Closely related to the pandemic-driven “Great Resignation” and trailing idea of “quiet quitting,” the phrase can easily strike disdain into the hearts of many traditionalists (as well as anyone who wants to see an educated society and a flourishing economy).
The fact is, however, that “anti-work” is something of a misnomer.
Those who support the movement aren’t against hard work as a concept — not at all. Instead, they are against the prevailing culture of work in America today: A culture in which employees are too often overworked, disrespected, underpaid and commoditized, and in which advances of AI seem poised to displace human creativity rather than replace the need for manual labor.
“The movement isn’t about being lazy, it’s about a different ideal,” said Michele McGovern for HR Morning. It’s about “choosing their work environment, hours, tasks and goals.”
Advocates of the movement – the majority of whom are actually employed, according to one demographic survey – say that many jobs these days are unnecessary and cause social issues such as inequality and poor work-life balance.
Anti-work proponents believe that many of today’s industries are bloated, rife with nepotism and do more harm than good for their employees. Further, they believe that many jobs, particularly those that have long been considered prestigious and “white collar,” are altogether unnecessary. Much of the modern workforce “enforce[s] wage slavery and deprive[s] workers of the full value of their output,” said Brian O’Connor for BBC Worklife.
The intent of the movement, again, is not to do away with work. Anti-work supporters don’t wish to live lives of leisure. Just lives of purpose. Movement members believe that people should work only as much as they need to, on fulfilling, meaningful tasks that make a difference in the lives of others, and not work “longer hours to create excess capital or goods,” said O’Connor.
“There is increasing support for the idea that even if someone is available to work and competent for available roles, it’s not necessarily worth their while to participate in the labor force,” said Lin Grensign-Pophal for HR Daily Advisor.
“After months, and now years, of uncertainty, it’s not surprising that some are questioning the role work can, and should, play in their lives” said O’Connor.
Course-correcting decades of increasingly long hours and low pay won’t happen overnight, and creating a society that values respect, fulfillment and meaning in the workplace will require the support of government legislation, corporate policy, and a variety of other social, cultural frameworks that will take time to enact.
For individuals, however, creating a career path where work doesn’t feel like work is more than feasible. And for young people, it starts with the choices they make after high school.
Already, “many Gen Zs are bucking the idea of a traditional education path,” said Juliana Stancampiano for Fast Company.
“They’ve watched Millennials before them take on crushing student loan debt, burdening them well into adulthood and limiting their ability to buy a first home and have children,” Stancampiano said. “Gen Z watched their parents and older Millennial acquaintances follow this path, but rather than it leading to prosperity, as promised, for many it meant delays in being able to afford a home, build a family, or save for retirement.”
In short, when Gen Z considers the type of work they’d like to be doing and the reasons why, they don’t see a four-year education as the way to get there.
According to a New America report, the majority (64 percent) believes that adults living in the United States need some sort of postsecondary credential to ensure financial security, but only 27 percent believe that education needs to result in a bachelor’s degree or beyond.
These students are much more interested in focused, skill-based career training programs like those offered at career colleges nationwide. In a 2020 ECMC/VICE Media survey, 74% of high schoolers said they think career-based education makes sense today.
The way career college programs are set up takes the power away from the institutions of higher education and corporate America, and puts it back into the hands of the skilled workers.
When Gen Z chooses a training program, they are learning concrete, hands-on skills that never go out of demand. They’re able to enter the workforce quickly, and if they find themselves in an undesirable work environment, their in-demand skills mean they’re more likely to be able to change their environment.
Gen Z is looking for a path that will put them in control of their futures and their careers. Career colleges are looking for students who will be successful in their programs. So why do so few career colleges target high school enrollment? Learn more about the white space in career college enrollment strategy: High school students.
This blog post was sponsored by the Imagine America Foundation’s Career Students First Initiative.