“Workerism” Is Making Americans Miserable

Economists worry that employees are facing burnout.

“Workerism” Is Making Americans Miserable

Despite what economists predicted in the 1930’s, Americans aren’t working 15 hour work weeks in the 21st Century.

Instead, “workerism” is the trend, and it’s causing burnout across economic classes.

According to The Atlantic, workerism “is 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.”

Rich men are leading the charge in extra hours worked over their middle-class and low-income counterparts. In 2005, the richest 10% of married working men had the longest average work week —compared to the 1980’s when they actually worked fewer hours than anyone else.

“For many of today’s rich there is no such thing as ‘leisure’; in the classic sense—work is their play,” Robert Frank, an economist, wrote in The Wall Street Journal. “Building wealth to them is a creative process, and the closest thing they have to fun.”

It’s not just rich, older men that have been engulfed workerism, say experts. Younger women at elite colleges are preparing for longer hours in their future jobs, and a recent Pew Research study found that 95% of teens say “having a job or career they enjoy” is “extremely or very important to them” once they become an adult.

“We’ve created this idea that the meaning of life should be found in work,” Oren Cass, the author of the book The Once and Future Worker, told The Atlantic.

“We tell young people that their work should be their passion. ‘Don’t give up until you find a job that you love!’ we say. ‘You should be changing the world!’ we tell them. That is the message in commencement addresses, in pop culture, and frankly, in media, including The Atlantic.”

Perhaps the introduction of policies such as universal basic income, subsidized child care, and parental leave could help curb the long hours put in at work. However, a shift in thinking might need to take place first.

Even though putting in longer hours might make you feel more accomplished, there’s a less stressful way to find happiness. Research conducted by Harvard Business School showed that workers are much happier when they have more hours to spend with friends, family and partners. 

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