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The new neurasthenia

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  1. hungariantoast

    In this context, a new moral code for work took hold: what the sociologist Allison Pugh calls a “one-way honor system” between employers and employees. Employees must devote themselves wholeheartedly to their work if they expect to get (or keep) a job—all while knowing that their employers feel no obligation to reciprocate. These are prime background conditions for an epidemic of burnout. One fact bears repeating: since 1974, labor productivity has kept increasing, but real wages have stayed flat. We are working harder and getting nothing for it.

    Meanwhile, as if to compensate for an increasingly precarious economy, our fantasies about work have grown, if anything, more intense. Hard work is likely the most universally cherished American value. One recent Pew survey found that 80 percent of Americans describe themselves as “hardworking”—outstripping all other traits. Work has gotten worse, yet our work ideals remain elevated. If burnout stems, as Malesic says, from the discrepancy between the ideal and the real, then burnout is punishment for idealists.

    3 votes