The Life and Death of the Dream Job at The Baffler

The wonderful Raechel Anne Jolie (whose book, Rust Belt Femme, I devoured in nearly one sitting) has written about Work Won’t Love You Back for The Baffler and I couldn’t be more thrilled. She writes:

The book contains original reporting interwoven with keen analysis of and remarkably thorough histories behind several different, but related, kinds of labor, including domestic care work (both hired and familial), public school teaching, non-profit staffing, academia, art, sports, and tech. Jaffe talks with people who were initially drawn to their jobs because they felt a genuine commitment to, or derived pleasure or purpose from, the work. Throughout these interviews, we bear witness to the complicated emotional stress of feeling passionate about work that is simultaneously exploitative and alienating.

This contradiction, Jaffe explains, although increasingly common, is a relatively new one. We haven’t always tried to find meaning in paid labor, and in fact a central struggle of the early labor movement was to reduce the number of hours we spent on the job. “The labor movement’s earliest demands were usually for less work . . . ” Jaffe reminds us. “The strike, the workers’ best weapon, is, after all, a refusal of work, and for a while they wielded it effectively, winning some concessions on the length of the working day and week as well as on wages.”

As a working-poor Boomer, my mom wasn’t conditioned to seek love in work. She had (and still has) a love for reading, craft-making, and family. She never had a passion for serving drinks at the Brown Derby, delivering newspapers at 3 a.m., serving cafeteria food, hauling ink cartridges in a print shop, or working for below minimum wage to do home health care. But I am from the post-Reagan generation, in which, Jaffe says, “it’s become especially important that we believe that the work itself is something to love.” When in 2003 I made it to college—with the help of above-the-poverty-line relatives, good grades, and a contract signing me up for decades of debt—I felt certain that it was a guaranteed path to escaping the menial labor I both performed and witnessed growing up. Even my burgeoning post-9/11 radical politics didn’t stop me from buying into the dominant narrative that college secured upward mobility. I think I needed to buy it—the idea that college wouldn’t be my ticket to “fulfilling work” was too much to bear. And so I did what I was told to do by posters in guidance counselor offices and bumper stickers on cars: “Follow your bliss”; “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”; and other messages that promised me my fate wouldn’t be the same as others from my blue-collar town.

Read the whole thing (it’s so good!) at The Baffler.

The Myth of “Loving What You Do” Has Ruined Modern Work for Everyone at Fatherly

I spoke with Lizzy Francis at Fatherly about Work Won’t Love You Back, care work, parenting, and collective action. She writes:

“Love what you do, you will never work a day in your life.” Or so the old adage goes. That phrase has been pummeled into our heads — and is even the slogan for a popular co-working space, printed on t-shirts and hats, an ethos in and of itself. For most people, that phrase is a load of crap, and it’s a harmful load of crap, too. After all, as long as people wonder how to find a job you love, they’ll never actually step in to make the job that they have a better one. “Do what you love, love what you do” is a fantasy of modern work that keeps people from understanding the ways in which they could make work better for themselves and their coworkers.

After all, the implication that “loving what you do” carries is that if you find something that stokes your passion, then frustration anger, or the rat-race struggle to get that promotion won’t actually feel like, well, work. It also has the pernicious effect of making money and benefits secondary to that passion — rather than the benefit of work itself. This type of thinking, however, pervades the modern workplace. And it’s making work worse than ever. 

“Work is awful,” says Sarah Jaffe, labor reporter and author of Work Won’t Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone. Work was awful before the pandemic, and the pandemic has just made work even worse.”

In her new book, Jaffe traces the death of typical factory jobs and the rise of care work (from service industry jobs, which account for the majority of work, to health care work) and emotional labor to the rising attitude that employees should love what they do to make their livings. Jaffe says that emotional labor is the hallmark of most middle-class jobs — whether you work in an office or as a nurse.

While that’s perfectly fine, it has led to an expectation that everyone is passionate about their 9-5’s. This false notion makes it seem like the job — not the salary, not the benefits, not the ability to stay home with your kids — is the reward in and of itself. When the work becomes the reward, everyone gets screwed. We overwork, we get underpaid, and worst of all, we don’t see a way out. Parents, especially, are caught under the wheel that keeps turning.

Read the whole thing at Fatherly


Work Is Just Not That Into You at the Saturday Evening Post

I spoke to Nicholas Gilmore at the Saturday Evening Post about Work Won’t Love You Back, class composition, what we might do with our free time, and, it turns out, a lot about Bette Davis. He wrote:

“The thing about common sense is that it’s often wrong,” Sarah Jaffe writes in her recent book Work Won’t Love You Back. In the book — part labor history, part collection of profiles of workers — Jaffe takes aim at some entrenched American ideas about the daily grind.

Many of us were raised to aspire to turn our passion into a paycheck, but Jaffe writes that the whole notion of work as something we enjoy spending our time doing is rather new. Even if there is joy in the work, she says that this can often blur the line between labor and love in a way that rarely benefits workers.

Tracing the ways we work — and who gets compensated for it — from pre-industrial times to today’s video game designers and striking teachers, Jaffe makes a case for a renewed telling of an old story of labor, and perhaps a revival of an old strategy to solve our collective work woes.

Read the whole thing at the Saturday Evening Post.

Freedom and leisure for everyone at Die Zeit

Lukas Hermsmeier wrote a long, thoughtful piece about Work Won’t Love You Back alongside Aaron Benanav’s Automation and the Future of Work and Eva von Redecker’s Revolution for Life. In German, but also available in English! He writes:

What makes Jaffe’s analysis so interesting is that it merges the swelling mantra of love your work with the increasing fragmentation and precariousness of the world of work. Jaffe explains that the pressure to love one’s work, to even feel realized through it, is, to the extent that it is today, a phenomenon of the post-industrial age. Even long before that, as Max Weber pointed out at the beginning of the 20th century , the capitalist world of work had been shaped by Protestant ethics; and in the Fordist economy, too, the workers had been battered and the roles were unjustly distributed according to gender. It was only neoliberalism, however, writes Jaffe, “that tried to give us not freedom from work, but through work.”

Read the whole thing at Die Zeit

What’s Love Got to Do With It? On Sarah Jaffe’s Work Won’t Love You Back at Unemployed Negativity

Jason Read at Unemployed Negativity wrote a lovely post about Work Won’t Love You Back. It’s really good–I encourage you to read the whole thing. He writes:

There is a dialectic of sorts between bullshit jobs and hope labor. The more the general labor situation seems plagued by demanding and demeaning jobs the more people are driven to find something with passion and purpose. This is an escape from work on the terrain of work itself, an escape from the cubicle to the coffeeshop or, worse yet, the corporate co-working space. On the opposite side of this dialectic, those stuck in jobs that are not perceived as difficult or demanding have no sympathy for those who work doing something perceived as fun, rewarding, or meaningful. Case in point the hostility shown towards teachers. As Jaffe has said in an interview, unless you are a coal miner there is supposedly no reason for forming a union. This conflict  undermines any solidarity across the affective divide. I imagine a book on the difficulties of teachers, artists, and athletes will be met with derision by many–“what do they have to complain about?” or “If they wanted more money they should have gone into a more lucrative career.” For this reason alone Jaffe should be celebrated for writing this book. It is hard enough to criticize work in our society, hardy still when it is a matter of criticizing jobs that people love.

Read the whole thing.

Keeping It in the Family: On Sarah Jaffe’s “Work Won’t Love You Back” at LA Review of Books

Maggie Levantovskaya reviewed Work Won’t Love You Back at the Los Angeles Review of Books and it’s so lovely, I’m crying over here.

She writes:

While the rhetoric of work-as-love generally operates against workers, it can also be strategically reclaimed for organizing purposes, as can be seen in her case study of public school teachers. As Jaffe explains, they’re “the ultimate laborers of love.” They’re also less likely to switch careers for better compensation, which only fuels the narrative that sacrifice is a necessary part of teaching and that discussions of material needs only sully the profession. When it comes to public conversations about teaching and pay, the either/or fallacy is strong, under the auspices that teachers are either “in it for the money” or for the love of the students. This ethos is perhaps best embodied in a now notorious meme: “Teachers don’t teach for the income. Teachers teach for the outcome.” Jaffe, whose focus on struggle is always about both hardship and resistance, dedicates ample space to demonstrating that, starting with the 2012 Chicago teacher strikes, unions flipped the narrative by appealing to teachers’ ties to local communities and their roles as caretakers. When unions used the slogan “Our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions” in strikes across the US, they suggested that taking material care of teachers was indispensable to educating and caring for students. When in 2019, the Los Angeles teachers’ strike resulted in a new contract, they got the district to not only give them a six percent raise but also to “lower class sizes, put a nurse in every school, reduce standardized testing by 50 percent, hire more counselors, invest in more green space on campus, [and] cut back on random searches.” It’s difficult to imagine such a victory without both the power of collective bargaining and the sway of teachers’ image as laborers of love.

Read the whole thing at LARB

Why Work Doesn’t Work, at PopMatters

Airelle Perrouin reviewed Work Won’t Love You Back for PopMatters! She writes:

This could have been essential reading at any time in the last 40 years, but released in January 2021,at the start of a year filled with economic and pandemic fear and uncertainty, Work Won’t Love You Back offers an important, timely reminder of the meaning of work. Jaffe highlights the critical connection between the terms we use to describe work, and the conditions we are willing to accept for ourselves and others. The crisis surrounding the people who work for companies like Amazon and Target is only one of the latest manifestations of the humanitarian failures of late capitalism. In another example of the dangers of capitalist exploitation, Jaffe refers to the tragic accident at Rana Plaza, a garment factory in Bangladesh that killed 1,132 people, and injured 2,500 more, when it collapsed in 2013.

Read the whole thing at PopMatters

Work won’t love you back, so why are we still trying to find fulfilment in our 9–5? at Marie Claire UK

I was featured in Marie Claire UK in a really lovely article by Kate McCusker. She writes:

A sacred (and conveniently shareable) phrase of the peppy influencer: “Do something you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

To that, labour journalist and author of Work Won’t Love You Back, Sarah Jaffe, has something to say. In fact, she has several things to say, and says them over the course of 279 (375 if you count notes, acknowledgements and index) perfectly paced pages. Jaffe’s question is simple: why are we so devoted to our jobs, when they yield very little in return? But her argument is nuanced, carefully researched and devastatingly convincing as to why we should all stop trying to find fulfilment in the daily grind.

Read the whole thing at Marie Claire UK


Why You Don’t Feel as Fulfilled From Your Job as You Think You Should at Time

­­Eliana Dockterman interviewed me about Work Won’t Love You Back for Time magazine. Here’s a clip:

Work Won’t Love You Back is a provocative title for book coming out at a time when many Americans are logging extra hours during the pandemic. But author Sarah Jaffe, whose book hits shelves on Jan. 26, argues that the “love your work” mantra is a myth of capitalism.

For most of human history workers clocked into their jobs knowing that “work sucked.” But in the 1970s, just when manufacturing began to die and labor movements began to lose ground, bosses started handing down aphorisms like, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Service people were told to plaster a smile onto their faces. Unpaid internships proliferated. And when women entered the workforce en masse looking for a paycheck, they were offered less money than their male peers. After all, their bosses argued, they should be grateful for the non-monetary rewards. “Even as the old story–that housework, and particularly motherhood, was inherently satisfying­­–hung on, the new myth, of work-as-liberation, grew up around it,” she writes. That pay gap has persisted.

In her book, Jaffe, a longtime labor journalist, says large corporations specifically conjured this fable in order to pay workers less and give them fewer benefits. The capitalist system, she says, depends on you believing that deception.

Read the whole thing at Time

Work Won’t Love You Back: why it’s time to ditch the ‘labour of love’ approach at Stylist

I spoke to Lauren Geall at Stylist magazine about Work Won’t Love You Back. She wrote:

Essentially, at a time where we’re giving more and more of ourselves to our jobs, we’re getting less back.

This is a problem which Sarah Jaffe aptly highlights in her new book Work Won’t Love You Back: How Devotion To Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted and Alone. According to Jaffe, the ‘labour of love’ myth that society has come to subscribe to is directly correlated to the problems so many workers are now facing.

“It’s exhausting, isn’t it?” Jaffe tells Stylist. “We’re told this story that our jobs will be exciting and fulfilling and we should be grateful to have them – but at the same time, they’re also making us nuts. How does that square up?”

Read the whole thing at Stylist