The Age of the Crisis of Work, by Erik Baker
Illustrations by Grace J. Kim Something has gone wrong with work. On this, everyone seems to agree. Less clear is the precise nature of the problem, let alone who or what is to blame. For some time we’ve been told that we’re in the midst of a Great Resignation. Workers are quitting their jobs en...
"The malaise is easy to mistake for a motivation deficit, but it’s more a matter of shifting priorities. For better or worse, people are still happy to work when it seems to be in their best interest. It’s the extra demands of the institution that have begun to grate—the pressure to go “above and beyond” now rejected by the proverbial quiet quitters. Hence the divergent manifestations of the crisis among different groups of workers. For low-wage service workers, currently faced with relatively abundant job openings but a desolate labor-organization landscape, it makes sense to jockey around the job market in search of better pay and conditions. For overproduced professionals in sectors like academia, yoked by their credentials to a narrower (if usually more desirable) job pool, that’s less of an option. Instead they—we—turn at best to unionization, and at worst to quiet despair.
A legitimation crisis occurs, Habermas argued, when the state “lags behind programmatic demands that it has placed on itself.” Legitimacy evaporates when promises are broken. Here I think we can find the roots of work’s legitimation crisis as well. No less than the state, work makes promises to its subjects. Our culture has scripts about what makes work worthwhile, not just necessary; not a burden to be endured but an important component of a flourishing life. And increasingly these scripts do not play out as written."Posted on 2023-04-19T05:04:50+0000