“Nobody wants to work” has been complaint for decades, viral thread shows


Work. How many of us would do it if we didn’t have to? How many of us dream of winning the lottery and never struggling through a work Christmas party again?

It seems like, for the vast majority of history, the poor have thought the rich to be lazy, and vice versa, and as Robert T. Kiyosake writes in his book Rich Dad, Poor Dad, “The richest people in the world build networks; everyone else is trained to look for work”.

Researcher at the University of Calgary and Twitter presence, with 35 thousand followers, Paul Fairie has published a series of posts to a thread on Twitter showing newspapers clippings through the decades entitled, ‘A Brief History of Nobody Wants to Work Anymore’.

The first post is an excerpt from a 2022 digital article and the quote reads: “According to a new survey released by TinyPulse, 1 in 5 executive leaders agree with this statement: ‘No one wants to work’.” In a blog article on their website, TinyPulse reference what has become known as ‘The Great Resignation’, “15 percent of employees say they want to quit their jobs in the next three months and HR managers also predict that 14.4% of their workforce will quit in the next three months.” With COVID-19 showing the world that not all jobs need to be office based 100% of the time, but with sustained resistance to flexible working hours and working from home from the majority of companies, the blame cannot just be laid at the feet of Beyonce, however influential.”

The second snippet, a newspaper article from 2014, reads, “What has happened to the work ethic in America? Nobody wants to work anymore. It has not always been that way. When I first started work as a teenager, I saw people work hard.”

This attitude, although from 2014, doesn’t quite correlate with the many studies that have been undertaken around Millennials and Generation Z on ‘burnout’. A 2021 survey from jobs website Indeed showed that Millennials and Generation Z employees were reporting the highest burn out rates, 59% and 58% respectively. Equally, a 2021 survey by Asana discovered that in the US, more Generation Z workers were reporting feelings of burnout than other ages, while a survey from the same year of British workers showed 80% of Generation Z workers felt more burned out since the beginning of the pandemic, compared to an average of 73% among other age groups.

Comparatively, a post in the thread showing a newspaper clipping from 2006 reads, “I can’t believe the bad luck I have had in trying to find someone to do some needed home improvements. It almost seems like nobody wants to work anymore and when they do work, they take no pride in what they do. How does one find a dependable worker?” Interestingly, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics which showed that in the USA in 2006, approximately one in 20 workers had more than one job.

“Nobody wants to work anymore…They all want to work in front of a computer and make lots of money”, says the extract from 1999. Putting aside the 1990s conflation with a lack of desire to do physical labor and laziness, the late 1990s and the early 2000s saw an exponential rise in digital jobs, something that had been brewing since the 1980s and was arguably inevitable. According to research providers Brooking, in 2002 in the USA, “56 percent of the jobs studied required low amounts of digital skills. Nearly 40 percent of jobs required medium digital skills and just 5 percent required high digital skills.

“A lot has changed. By 2016, the share of jobs requiring high digital skills had jumped to 23 percent. The share requiring medium digital skills rose to 48 percent. And in a huge shift, the share of jobs requiring low digital skills fell from 56 to 30 percent.”

A post in the thread from 1937 reads, “Faced with a shortage of labor when unemployment is widespread, peach orchardists in York and Adams counties are complaining that, ‘Nobody wants to work anymore’. There is work, it is reported, for 15 to 25 peach pickers in every orchard in the two counties, but only two to five pickers are at work because of the unavailability of labor.

“‘Nobody, it seems wants to work at peach or apple picking and packing’, an Adams county fruit grower declared.” This may be surprising as during The Great Depression that befell America from 1929 to 1939, it is known that almost a quarter of the country lost their jobs. It is comparable however, to the situation in the UK in 2020, where despite 1.3 million people losing their jobs due to COVID-19, and despite Brexit, The UK newspaper The Guardian reported at the time that 150 Romanian workers had to be flown in to the country from Bucharest due to the lack of labor, as farms risked losing their crop of early summer fruit and vegetables, sorely needed during the pandemic. Could this be because the vast majority of people made redundant were not deemed ‘key workers’, mainly those in the arts, who held relevant qualifications and experience, as well as hope that the culture scene of the UK would rise again, as well as the furlough scheme which tied people over for a while?

The final clip, an extract from a newspaper from 1894, highlights a problem with attitudes towards the workforce that is still prevalent today, the indignation from those on high that workers demand fair renumerations for their services. It reads, “With all the mines of the country shut down by strikers what will the poor editor for coal next winter? It is becoming apparent that nobody wants to work these hard times.”

It begs the question why did the virtuous editor themself not jump down a mine if the country depended on it? If this article is in reference to the bituminous coal miners’ strike which took place over eight weeks in April 1894. The strike, which consisted of 25,207 miners, was due to continued pay cuts and was ultimately unsuccessful as most owners refused, as violence broke out across the country. The Great Depression (1929 – 1939) forced all miners back into work by June, with no pay rise.

Elsewhere in the USA in 1894 in Cripple Creek Colorado, gold miners waged a five-month strike to protest pay cuts and hour increases, which they ultimately won.

One Twitter user says it straight, “The real culprit is low pay. How did Amazon for instance make record profits in the middle of the pandemic, yet their workers struggle to pay rent and put food on the table? Why didn’t their worker’s quality of life improve during this time as well?”

Ask your Average Joe, and most people wouldn’t work if they didn’t have to, but those that do will continue to demand equal and fair pay, equal and fair rights, and reserve the right to protest when these are not present, in return for their work.

Man hiding under laptop
Man hiding under laptop. Stock image. A survey from the same year of British workers showed 80% of Generation Z workers felt more burned out since the beginning of the pandemic.
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