How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone

a book by Sarah Jaffe
Press Work Won't Love You Back

Sarah Jaffe, Author of Work Won’t Love You Back, on Labor and Exploitation at Teen Vogue

The wonderful Kim Kelly interviewed me about Work Won’t Love You Back for Teen Vogue! We talked about exploitation, Wages for Housework, organizing at Google and Amazon, and much much more. She writes:

Wry, passionate, and at times heartrending, Work Won’t Love You Back finds Jaffe breaking bread with artists, interns, domestic workers, video game designers, academics, and many others who have seen their labor systematically devalued, dismissed, and disregarded due to the nature of what they produce and factors beyond their control, like gender, race, and identity. Jaffe explores the “labor of love” myth, which is familiar to starving artists of the past and today’s content creators, and reminds us that none of this is immovable; change is always possible. As Jaffe writes, despite the strict theoretical connection between labor and capital, in practice, that relationship status is often… complicated. “Labor, after all, is us,” she says. “Messy, desiring, hungry, lonely, angry, frustrated human beings.” 

Read the whole thing at Teen Vogue.
Press Work Won't Love You Back

You Don’t Have to Love Your Job at The New Republic

Jonathan Malesic reviewed Work Won’t Love You Back at The New Republic and it’s just lovely. I want to excerpt the whole thing here but I will not! Instead, here’s a snippet:

Both care and creativity supposedly stand outside the capitalist drive to extract profit from labor. That’s why the labor-of-love myth is so effective in aiding it. Convince people that they are doing something they love, and how can they demand better working conditions? A former Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains employee tells Jaffe that the organization fought a fledgling union by claiming that management and labor were all “family.” And who would threaten to strike against family? Whereas other writers, confronting this rhetoric, have urged us to stop loving our jobs, Jaffe shows how workers can turn the love of work into a tool they can leverage against their bosses.


The love ethos, then, is a double-edged sword. As Marx and Engels claimed in The Communist Manifesto, the very skills that make someone a productive employee also make them a formidable opponent of management. When Woolworth’s employees struck in 1937 in Detroit, Jaffe writes, the saleswomen “knew that the same charm that had gotten them hired in the first place would play well with reporters, and they performed for the cameras that turned up as well as for one another.” This is true, too, for the professional-managerial class, highly educated workers who have lost considerable autonomy and security since the 1970s. This proletarianization of large numbers of professionals, Jaffe observes, “makes them dangerous even as it strips away their power.”

Read the whole thing at The New Republic
Press Work Won't Love You Back

There Is Nothing Natural About the Way We Work at Vice UK

Oscar Rickett at Vice UK interviewed me for this excellent piece on work’s changes and crappiness. I love it because he quotes me going on about Gramsci, but also because he talks about Oscar Wilde’s ideas on work. He writes:

“Our relationship to work can change under capitalism, because it has,” says the American journalist Sarah Jaffe, author of the forthcoming book Work Won’t Love You Back. “It can change. It might get worse.” Aidan Harper, researcher at the New Economics Foundation and co-author of The Case for a Four-Day Week, believes that cultural norms – “the natural conservatism that tends to believe that, if things change, it will be for the worse” – need to be overcome in order to bring about a shift in our attitude towards work.


Sarah Jaffe references the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci when she tells me that such assumptions are the product of history – material forces that shift with material conditions.

In the age of Fordism, Jaffe says, unionised American workers clocked in and clocked out. They didn’t have to pretend to love their work: it was often repetitive, but it paid pretty well and allowed for a decent standard of living. This was also deemed “men’s work”, and Jaffe sees a gendered change in the makeup of working class jobs today, with jobs in hospitals, social care and the service industry taking the place of heavy industry.

Today’s workplace, too, is defined by a culture that demands employees love what they do, buying into the company brand (one games company calls itself a “Fampany”) while being afforded far less job security. Either way, we are battling still against what the late Mark Fisher called “capitalist realism”, the idea that, as Margaret Thatcher put it, “there is no alternative”.

In opposition to this, Jaffe’s book profiles a wide range of workers fighting for better conditions, and also shows how powerful the kind of hegemony Gramsci defined remains. Jaffe writes that she often asks people what they would do if they didn’t have to work, and that while she hears answers relating to spending more time with family and friends, or pursuing different interests, harassed workers tend to always return to the fact that a life without work is impossible and almost unthinkable.

Read the whole thing at Vice
Press Work Won't Love You Back

What’s Wrong with the Way We Work at The New Yorker

Jill Lepore at The New Yorker included Work Won’t Love You Back in her sweeping look at the way we work today. She writes:

“Meaningful work” is an expression that had barely appeared in the English language before the early nineteen-seventies, as McCallum observes. “Once upon a time, it was assumed, to put it bluntly, that work sucked,” Sarah Jaffe writes in “Work Won’t Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone” (Bold Type). That started to change in the nineteen-seventies, both McCallum and Jaffe argue, when, in their telling, managers began informing workers that they should expect to discover life’s purpose in work. “With dollar-compensation no longer the overwhelmingly most important factor in job motivation,” the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange wrote, “management must develop a better understanding of the more elusive, less tangible factors that add up to ‘job satisfaction.’ ” After a while, everyone was supposed to love work. “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” popped up all over the place in the nineteen-eighties and nineties, along with the unpaid internship, the busting of unions, and campaigns to cut taxes on capital gains. It soon became, in Silicon Valley and on Wall Street, a catechism. “The only way to do great work is to love what you do,” Steve Jobs told a graduating class at Stanford in 2005. “If you love what you’re doing, it’s not ‘work,’ ” David M. Rubenstein, a C.E.O. of the Carlyle Group, said on CNBC in 2014. “Everywhere you look you hear people talking about meaning,” a disillusioned Google engineer told McCallum. “They aren’t philosophers. They aren’t psychologists. They sell banner ads.” It’s not pointless. But it’s not poetry. Still, does it have to be?

Read More at The New Yorker
Press Work Won't Love You Back

FT Business Books January

The Financial Times previewed Work Won’t Love You Back in its January Recommended Reading list. They write:

Many of us will have slumped in a festive haze in front of Bridgerton, the Netflix series set in Regency England. It tells the story of wealthy families whose principal preoccupations are balls, marriage and sex. Once the rich were the leisured class, now they valorise working long hours.

In her latest book Sarah Jaffe, a journalist, documents the importance of work to identity and emotional lives. Work Won’t Love You Back unpicks the growing cult of work as a passion. If you do what you love, goes the mantra, you never work a day. This ethos posits co-workers as family. One video-game company, described in the book, brands itself a “fampany”.

Security, the author writes, “has been traded for fulfilment . . . the compulsion to be happy at work . . . is always a demand for emotional work from the worker. Work, after all, has no feelings. Capitalism cannot love. This new work ethic, in which work is expected to give us something like self-actualisation, cannot help but fail.”

The pandemic has exposed this myth, making the book a timely read.

Read the whole thing at the FT
Press Work Won't Love You Back

The essential non-fiction books of 2021 at the New Statesman

Tom Gatti at the New Statesman included Work Won’t Love You Back in a list of essential 2021 reads. He writes:

Several other writers have also “gone big” this year with ambitious, ideas-rich books. One of the most keenly anticipated is The Right to Sex by Amia Srinivasan, a young philosopher at All Souls, Oxford. Published by Bloomsbury in August, it is billed as “a landmark dismantling of the politics and ethics of sex in this world”. In Everybody (Picador, April), Olivia Laing tells the related story of the body and its fight for political freedom through 20th-century movements such as gay rights and feminism. Jan Lucassen’s The Story of Work: A New History of Humankind (Yale, July) feels timely as we adjust to a workplace transformed by the pandemic. Its themes are shared by several other titles including Work Won’t Love You Back by Sarah Jaffe (Hurst, January) and Why You Won’t Get Rich by Robert Verkaik (Oneworld, March).

Read More at The New Statesman
Press Work Won't Love You Back

What’s the Point of Non-Essential Work? at Jezebel

Jezebel’s Marie Solis interviewed me for this excellent piece about work, and how it sucks, and how this was the year we all started to think about that. She writes:

Sarah Jaffe refers to this idea as “workplace realism,” in her new book Work Won’t Love You Back. Riffing on Mark Fisher’s theory of capitalist realism, Jaffe reminds the reader: We may work from home, work odd hours, have meetings over Zoom rather than in person, but on the macro level the idea that we should work no matter what has remained stubbornly intact. But, as Jaffe reminded me, the history of the labor movement in the U.S. is founded on fights for fewer hours and more time to spend as we wish. The struggle for the eight-hour workday we now consider standard (in theory if not in practice) might also have begun as a single seed of consciousness, a realization that spending the majority of our time at work is not natural.

Individual epiphanies about work—that one would rather do much less of it, or that one should at least be able to do it on one’s own terms—can become the foundation of collective movements. During the pandemic, workers have organized for better work conditions, gone on rent strike to demand that housing be recognized as a human right. The government has demonstrated that it has the ability to deposit $1,200 into the bank accounts of (most) Americans if there is the political will—fertile ground for agitating for a universal basic income. These are practical measures to materially improve people’s lives as well as important exercises in imagination: It is possible to alter the way we work.

“The crisis can make it much more obvious to us the ways work sucks but we still have to change it,” Jaffe said. “The realizations that people are coming to, the reckonings people are having with work, those are happening everywhere. What we do with them then is the next question.”

Read more at Jezebel
Press Work Won't Love You Back

32 Great Books To Start Off Your New Year at Refinery29

In Refinery29, Work Won’t Love You Back is one of 32 recommended books, and they write:

After reading this insightful look into how doing what you love can be a recipe for disaster you may want to get the words, “work won’t love you back,” stitched on a pillow so you don’t forget.

Read more at Refinery29

Press Work Won't Love You Back

Your Must-Read List for Cozying Up With a Good Book This Winter at Jewish Exponent

Jesse Bernstein at Philly blog Jewish Exponent calls Work Won’t Love You Back a must-read. He writes:

The title is true of everyone except for me. I am completely fulfilled by my work. So if you’re one of those people wondering about why works feels like that, check out the newest reported book from Jaffe, a Philadelphia native and Temple grad, to boot.

Read more at Jewish Exponent