The Case Against Loving Your Job


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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.”

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 and how the logic of capitalism has shaped our notions of human value and self-worth.


“Physicians aren’t ‘burning out.’ They’re suffering from moral injury” by Wendy Dean and Simon Talbot

“Workism Is Making Americans Miserable” by Derek Thompson

"Optimal Experience in Work and Leisure" by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Judith LeFevre

Undoing The Demos by Wendy Brown

Dirty Work by Eyal Press

Book Recommendations:

Lost in Work by Amelia Horgan

Farewell to the Factory by Ruth Milkman

Confessions of the Fox by Jordy Rosenberg

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.

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You can find transcripts (posted midday) and more episodes of "The Ezra Klein Show" at, and you can find Ezra on Twitter @ezraklein. Book recommendations from all our guests are listed at

“The Ezra Klein Show” is produced by Annie Galvin, Jeff Geld and Rogé Karma; fact-checking by Michelle Harris; original music by Isaac Jones; mixing by Jeff Geld, audience strategy by Shannon Busta. Special thanks to Kristin Lin.

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