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

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

Why it’s time to fall out of love with work at Welcome to the Jungle

Joanna York interviewed me about Work Won’t Love You Back for Welcome to the Jungle. She writes:

Do you love your job? Many workers don’t just say they do, they move cities, put in long hours or even work for free to prove just how passionate they are about what they do for a living. And being intrinsically interested in the job itself might not be enough. Increasingly we are urged to see colleagues as family, our homes as offices and to free up our leisure time to make ourselves more available to our bosses.

Studies suggest such commitment to work is taking its toll. Research from the World Health Organization in 2021 found that overwork—defined as working more than 54 hours a week—is deadly, killing three quarters of a million people a year. So why do we work with such devotion, and how can we stop?

Read the rest at Welcome to the Jungle
Press Work Won't Love You Back

What Does It Even Mean To Be ‘Burnt Out’ These Days? at Refinery29

I spoke with Daisy Schofield for Refinery29 for a story on the ubiquity of “burnout” and what gets missed in those discussions. She writes:

People may also be more likely to say they are experiencing burnout because the term can be worn as a badge of honour. As Sarah Jaffe, author of Work Won’t Love You Back, writes: “We’re supposed to value ‘busy’ and ‘productive’, and capital has always valued these things. Bosses want us to work as much as and as hard as we possibly can. The expectation that we’ve internalised this as employees, rather than as bosses, is a relatively new thing.”Sarah says this idea that we should prize productivity above all else marks a shift away from the industrial model – such as work in the coal mines – where employment was seen as more adversarial. In today’s hustle culture, “being super busy is somehow a sign that we have status, when usually, it’s just a sign that we don’t get paid enough.” The term ‘burnout’, Sarah argues, has become inextricably bound up with this idea that we should love our jobs. As she puts it: “Burnout becomes the space between being told that you should love your job and the reality that your job still sucks.”Do we need a new language to talk about burnout, or one that more explicitly deglorifies overwork, such as ‘toxic productivity‘? Sarah is unconvinced. “Literally, productivity is killing us, as individuals and the planet. So there’s sort of no ‘non-toxic’ productivity,” she says. While terms such as burnout have become “vacated of meaning … their origins were really powerful,” Sarah notes. “I think it’s useful to drill down into where terms [like burnout] come from, because often, it tells us a lot about what’s actuallygoing on and what we’re actually dealing with.” 

Read the whole thing at Refinery29
Press Work Won't Love You Back

‘The future sucks’: why the work you love won’t love you back at OpenDemocracy

I spoke with Natalia Savalyeva at OpenDemocracy about Work Won’t Love You Back, and quoted comrade Patrick Blanchfield on “the future sucks.” She writes:

Twenty years into the 21st century, most people in the west want to have a job that they love. And, vice versa, we expect that this love – our inspiration, devotion and care – will provide us with deep fulfillment, even satisfaction with who we are as individuals and how we lead our lives.

Yet very often the opposite happens: the “love what you do” principle supports the exploitation and devaluation of labour, as well as cutting back on social protection and welfare guarantees. You can love your work, but as US labour journalist Sarah Jaffe reminds us in her new book, it won’t love you back.

In Work Won’t Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted and Alone, Jaffe draws on her deep experience reporting on workplace organising in the US to explore why love is not a necessary component of our jobs, how the whole idea of the “labour of love” brought us to the edge of global crises, and how we can change it for the better – by fighting for our rights as workers, and changing how our societies are organised socially, politically and economically.

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

Praxis Makes Perfect at Chompsky Blog

I spoke with the Chompsky: Power and Pop Culture blog about organizing, the media, and my career path. Read an excerpt:

Each interview will focus on praxis: action that allows you to put into practice whatever the interviewee’s work centers around – today’s is: Organising.

This week I talked to Sarah Jaffe, an American reporter and author who writes about labo(u)r issues. She is currently, alongside numerous other excellent freelance journalists, a Type Media Fellow meaning that her work is so good, that a nonprofit pays her specifically to do that and only that. And if you read enough Chompsky or know anything about the current state of jobs in journalism, you’ll know how special that is.

I’m particularly interested in her work because she tells human stories about work and organising, from history and today, with humour, illuminating in an accessible way the hidden mechanisms of exactly how the workplace works.

Read the rest at Chompsky
Press Work Won't Love You Back

A job you love at Il Tascabile

Another Italian interview! And a good moment to tell you that Work Won’t Love You Back will be translated into Italian and published in Italy by Minimum Fax. More details when I have them! But in the meantime, I spoke with Irene Doda for Il Tascabile and you can read it in Italian or click the little translate button and read in English too. An excerpt:

Precisely this “work of love” is the theme of the essay by American journalist Sarah Jaffe entitled Work Won’t Love You Back – which can be translated as “The work does not return your love”, forthcoming by minimum fax. Jaffe follows the story of the labor of love starting with those typically female tasks in the Fordist economic framework: domestic work and care work. But from the feminized nursing professions such as babysitting, to the role of teachers, to third sector and art professionals, Jaffe reconstructs the role of love and dedication in the neoliberal economy, to arrive at defining emotions as an everlasting sphere. more present and decisive in wage labor. The “work of love” makes workers potentially blackmailable, precisely by virtue of the devotion to their profession. We discussed with Sarah Jaffe about various themes that cross her essay, to reflect on how to frame the phenomenon of the labor of love in the contemporary world. 

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

Work Won’t Love Us Back at The Forge

I chatted with Lena Eckert-Erdheim at The Forge to talk about what inspired her new book, the work of organizing, and the urgency of transforming the way that we think and feel about work. An excerpt:

There’s a difference between the dignity of work and the dignity of workers.

Right. Exactly. And also, there are a lot of people who can’t work. There are a lot of people who are unemployed right now because half of capitalism is shut down. There are a lot of people who have disabilities, who are ill, who are old, who are retired, who are children, who cannot, should not, do not need to work and are also still dignified human beings. This idea that you’re only worth something if you work, we’ve seen where that gets us. It gets us the lieutenant governor of Texas saying grandma would be happy to die to keep capitalism going. It gets us denying prisoners COVID vaccines because they’re not productive citizens. It leads to people justifying people dying of COVID because they already had a disability or an illness. I don’t think fetishizing work gets us anywhere good, and that’s stuff that I’ve learned from disability rights movements, elder’s rights movements, and prison abolitionists.

Read the rest at The Forge.

Work is Unrequited Love at VD

Continuing my virtual trip around the world, I spoke to Davide Schiavon at Italian magazine VD about Work Won’t Love You Back:

“Do what you like: A mentality that is told very well by Sarah Jaffe, American journalist, in her book Work will not love you back ( The work does not reciprocate your love ), released in January for The Bold Type , American publisher of the Hachette group. The book, not yet translated into Italian, was highly appreciated in the United States. Sarah Jaffe scours the world of work going to the heart of every profession, recounting its hypocrisies through long reportages. There are ten focuses, intense interviews with workers: from the unpaid intern to the teacher on the verge of a nervous breakdown, from the employee of a non-profit to the Amazon warehouse worker, up to the professional athlete. The tyranny of work clearly emerges, leaving no space and time for anything. “How devotion to our works has made us exploited, exhausted and alone” is the emblematic subtitle of the book.

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

Love and Labour at Not9to5

Elinor Potts interviewed me about Work Won’t Love You Back for Not9to5. She writes:

With the boundaries of work and life increasingly muddled as we work from home through the pandemic, many of us have found ourselves increasingly committed to working as a distraction. As Autonomy reported in their ‘blueprint for the new normal’ report, which we blogged about back in January, 80% of overtime carried out from home goes unpaid, compared to 60% of office work, and during the pandemic, the average workday increased by 8.2% – nearly 50 minutes.  

Exploring the root of our compulsion to work and the realities of emotionally demanding labour, Elinor chatted with Journalist and Author Sarah Jaffe following the recent publication of her new book, Work Won’t Love You Back

Read the whole thing at Not9to5
Press Work Won't Love You Back

“There is no such thing as the ‘dignity of work’” at The New Statesman

I spoke with the excellent George Eaton at The New Statesman about Work Won’t Love You Back, punk rock, shitty jobs, dignity and where it comes from, and how hope, as Mariame Kaba says, is a discipline. He writes:

“We get tripped up with this idea of the ‘dignity of work’,” Jaffe told me. “The miners don’t have dignity because they’re miners, they have dignity because they’re human… If you tell people that the only thing that gives them dignity is their work, well, when we have millions of people applying for benefits what the hell have we just done to those people if we tell them their only worth is working?”

Jaffe, who describes herself with justification as a “labour journo before it was cool”, said that she was politicised by “punk rock and shitty jobs”. She spoke of the influence of her late Jewish father, who owned restaurants and a bicycle shop (“he was very clear that no one would hire him”) and quipped: “Who wants to have a boss anyway?”

“He didn’t quite accept that I was going to take that politically in the direction that I did,” Jaffe reflected. “I’m trying to abolish everyone’s boss.”

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

Do You Enjoy What You Do? at Dissent

I sat down like an actual human for a real life chat with Natasha Lewis from Dissent to talk about Work Won’t Love You Back (outdoors, in the cold but still worth it) and you can read the interview now. She writes:

Natasha Lewis: You’re a labor journalist, so you spend a lot of time covering labor struggles, but a lot of the people you write about in this book don’t have unions. Could you tell me a bit about that choice?

Sarah Jaffe: In some of these cases it’s people who can’t have unions, right? I start out with a mom. The artists that I talk about are trying to form an artists’ union, but there isn’t really one for them to be part of. So, in those cases, that’s the story: how do you organize when you are aren’t really recognized as needing or deserving a union?

In other cases, they’re in organizations like United for Respect and the National Domestic Workers Alliance, where they’re organizing as workers, but they’re not proper union members. Others are founding members of new unions like the game workers, or the hockey players who are forming their worker organization.

This is what the workforce looks like now: a whole bunch of people who don’t have access to traditional unions, don’t have access to organizing help, and don’t have traditional-looking workplaces.

Read the whole thing at Dissent