Report finds work has become the new religion

On the job: WeWork offices are decorated with “do what you love”. Is it good advice? © WeWork

Teenagers say having a job they enjoy is twice as important as getting married or having children, according to a major new American survey. But anxiety and depression are rising steeply.

What do you want to be when you grow up? You have probably been asked this countless times. If you are not sure, you have probably been asked: “What are you good at? What do enjoy? What is your passion?”

But is this bad advice? In an essay in The Atlantic, the writer Derek Thompson argues that “workism” is the new American religion, and that it is making people “miserable”.

He defines workism as “the belief that work is […] the centerpiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose.”

He cites a new survey by Pew Research, in which 95% of US teenagers say that “having a job or career they enjoy” will be “extremely or very important” to them when they grow up. This is more important than any other option, including getting married or having children.

But not everyone will find a job they enjoy. So what then?

Americans are setting themselves up for “anxiety, mass disappointment and inevitable burnout,” Thompson says.

In January, a Buzzfeed News article about “millennial burnout” went viral. “Why am I burned out? Because I’ve internalized the idea that I should be working all the time,” wrote Anne Helen Peterson. “Why have I internalized that idea? Because everything and everyone in my life” says so.

Work it out

Is there really anything wrong with wanting to enjoy your job? The average British person will spend 84,171 hours of their life working. Surely it is better to spend those hours doing something you like? Or would you rather make the most of your free time instead?

And has work really replaced religion? Traditional religion is declining in the US and Europe. Has this left people searching for meaning in their lives? If so, can we find it through our work? Or should we be looking to nature? Family? Art? Travel? Ourselves?

You Decide

  1. If you had to choose, would you rather have a job that you enjoy? Or one that is well paid?


  1. List the top five things you want from your ideal job. These can be big and broad (“a sense of purpose”) or small and specific (“ping pong tables in the office”). Share your list with the rest of the class.

Some People Say...

“Work without love is slavery.”

Mother Teresa

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Thompson’s theory is based on US data which shows that rich men are working more hours than they did in the past. This has happened even as the average work year for Americans has fallen by 200 hours since 1950.
What do we not know?
Whether the idea of work as religion also applies in the UK and Europe, where people tend to work less and have more holidays than Americans.

Word Watch

Pew Research
Based on interviews of US teenagers aged 13-17, published in February 2019.
Defined by the psychologist Herbert Freudenberger as “physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress.”
Anyone born in the last two decades of the 20th century.
Unknowingly believed an idea or picked up certain behaviours.
According to a survey commissioned by the Association of Accounting Technicians, published in October 2018.

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