Workism in The Atlantic
This week, Derek Thompson, staff writer for The Atlantic, penned a fascinating and harrowing discussion of the state of American work, “Workism is Making American’s Miserable”. What is ‘workism’? “The belief that work is not only necessary to economic production, but also the centerpiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose, and the belief that any policy to promote human welfare must always encourage more work”, Thompson writes. Key takeaways from the article:
On the religious nature of work: “Perhaps long hours are part of an arms race for status and income among the moneyed elite. Or maybe the logic here isn’t economic at all. It’s emotional—even spiritual. The best-educated and highest-earning Americans, who can have whatever they want, have chosen the office for the same reason that devout Christians attend church on Sundays: It’s where they feel most themselves.”
On workism with respect to gender and age: “Workism may have started with rich men, but the ethos is spreading—across gender and age. In a 2018 paper on elite universities, researchers found that for women, the most important benefit of attending a selective college isn’t higher wages, but more hours at the office. In other words, our elite institutions are minting coed workists. What’s more, in a recent Pew Research report on the epidemic of youth anxiety, 95 percent of teens said “having a job or career they enjoy” would be “extremely or very important” to them as an adult. This ranked higher than any other priority, including “helping other people who are in need” (81 percent) or getting married (47 percent). Finding meaning at work beats family and kindness as the top ambition of today’s young people.”
On meaning and burnout: “In a recent New York Times essay, “Why Are Young People Pretending to Love Work?,” the reporter Erin Griffith pays a visit to the co-working space WeWork, where the pillows urge do what you love, and the neon signs implore workers to hustle harder. These dicta resonate with young workers. As several studies show, Millennials are meaning junkies at work. “Like all employees,” one Gallupsurvey concluded, “millennials care about their income. But for this generation, a job is about more than a paycheck, it’s about a purpose.” The problem with this gospel—Your dream job is out there, so never stop hustling—is that it’s a blueprint for spiritual and physical exhaustion. Long hours don’t make anybody more productive or creative; they make people stressed, tired and bitter. But the overwork myths survive “because they justify the extreme wealth created for a small group of elite techies,” Griffith writes.”
On paradoxical disengagement: “Workism offers a perilous trade-off. On the one hand, Americans’ high regard for hard work may be responsible for its special place in world history and its reputation as the global capital of start-up success. A culture that worships the pursuit of extreme success will likely produce some of it. But extreme success is a falsifiable god, which rejects the vast majority of its worshippers. Our jobs were never meant to shoulder the burdens of a faith, and they are buckling under the weight. A staggering 87 percent of employees are not engaged at their job, according to Gallup. That number is rising by the year.”
How might you discuss the differences between a gospel-centered view of work and achievement and the pressures of workism with your students? And hitting even closer to home – is your own view of youth ministry infected with workism?