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How the pandemic ended America’s bad romance with work

Washington Post Opinion / Helaine Olen: “In February 2020, few would have predicted the wave of dissatisfaction that was about to roll over the American workplace. The United States, it was common to say, was a nation of workaholics — and we seemed to like it that way. Our professional lives had taken on the overtones of a secular religion; they were a primary way to find meaning in the world and a crucial part of our identity. We were “married to the job,” in the words of therapist and author Ilene Philipson. Even precarious, low-paying gigs were valorized as “hustle culture,” representing freedom to perform labor on our terms. Fast-forward to fall 2022. The number of people quitting, while down from the peak, remains at the highest level since the 1970s. White-collar workers don’t want to give up working remotely. Low-paying sectors such as the hospitality industry can’t find enough people willing to work for the wages on offer. Union organizing and strikes have been on an upswing. Myriad commenters have tried to name the collection of trends underway: The Great Resignation. The Great Renegotiation. Quiet Quitting. The Great Reevaluation. It’s not easy to nail down a movement that spans striking nurses and unionizing strippers, Amazon warehouse workers and work-from-home Wall Street bankers. But what’s increasingly clear is that the March 2020 decision to partially close down the American economy shattered Americans’ dysfunctional, profoundly unequal relationship with work like nothing in decades. And even if there was great discomfort in a shutdown that severed almost every one of us from assumptions about how we earn a living, we also found an unexpected opportunity: to remake our relationship with the labor that fills our days.” [Amen]

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