The compulsion to be happy at work “is always a demand for emotional work from the worker,” writes Sarah Jaffe. “Work, after all, has no feelings. Capitalism cannot love. This new work ethic, in which work is expected to give us something like self-actualization, cannot help but fail.”
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Jaffe is a Type Media Center reporting fellow, a co-host of the podcast “Belabored” and the author of “Work Won’t Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted and Alone.” Many of us, especially Gen Zers and millennials, have grown up with the idea that work should be more than just a way to make a living; it’s a vocation, a calling, a source of meaning and fulfillment. But for Jaffe, that idea is a scam, a con, a false promise. It prevents us from seeing work for what it really is: a power struggle over our time, our labor and our livelihoods.
So this is a conversation about the dissonance between our expectations of what work can offer our lives and the reality of what our jobs and careers are capable of delivering; about whether work can ever really love us back. But there’s a bigger picture here, too. Workers are quitting their jobs in record numbers. Strikes are taking place across the country. In her role as a labor reporter, Jaffe has spent much of the past year interviewing workers across the country — spanning industries from retail to health care to tech — giving her insight into the shift in attitudes behind this uproar in the labor market. So that’s where we begin: Why are so many Americans radically rethinking work?
We also discuss the rise of corporate virtue signaling, the threat that American consumerism poses for worker power, how the decline of religion could be contributing to the veneration of careers, why the term “burnout” doesn’t go far enough in describing the problems of modern work, how the logic of capitalism has shaped our notions of human value and self-worth and more.
You can listen to the whole conversation by following “The Ezra Klein Show” on Apple, Spotify, Google or wherever you get your podcasts. View a list of book recommendations from our guests here.
This episode is guest hosted by Rogé Karma, the staff editor for “The Ezra Klein Show.” Rogé has been with the show since July 2019, when it was based at Vox. He works closely with Ezra on everything related to the show, from editing to interview prep to guest selection. At Vox, he also wrote stories and conducted interviews on topics ranging from policing and racial justice to democracy reform and the coronavirus.
(A full transcript of the episode is available here.)