Work Won’t Love You Back
How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted and Alone
A Times Business Book of the Year 2021
When you love your job so much that you’ll work for next to nothing, then nothing is exactly what you’ll get.
You’re told that if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. Whether it’s working for free in exchange for ‘experience’, enduring poor treatment in the name of being ‘part of the family’, or clocking serious overtime for a good cause, more and more of us are pushed to make sacrifices for the privilege of being able to do work we enjoy.
Work Won’t Love You Back examines how we all bought into this ‘labour of love’ myth: the idea that certain work is not really work, and should be done for the sake of passion rather than pay. Through the lives and experiences of various workers—from the unpaid intern and the overworked teacher, to the nonprofit employee, the domestic worker and even the professional athlete—this compelling book reveals how we’ve all been tricked into a new tyranny of work.
Sarah Jaffe argues that understanding the labour of love trap will empower us to work less and demand what our work is worth. Once freed, we can finally figure out what actually gives us joy, pleasure and satisfaction.
A Times Business Book of the Year 2021
‘[Jaffe] documents the importance of work to identity and emotional lives. Work Won’t Love You Back unpicks the growing cult of work as a passion. … The pandemic has exposed this myth, making the book a timely read.’ — Financial Times
‘An extremely timely analysis of how we arrived at … brutal inequalities and of some of the ways in which a deliberately atomised workforce is beginning to organise to challenge them.’ — The Observer
‘In her deeply reported book, Jaffe tells [the] story through a cast that includes alienated academics, tortured tech workers and subjugated shelf-stackers. … The tension at the heart of Jaffe’s book is that which exists between work and love. Rather than ending with a traditional list of leftist demands, it concludes with a moving reflection on the latter.’ — New Statesman
‘A timely reminder. … What [Jaffe] hopes is that people who have a nagging sense that their “job kind of sucks, they don’t love it” will realise they are not alone. But they can do something about it, for instance joining a union or pushing for fewer hours.’ — Financial Times
‘Jaffe’s exploration of the ways that labor has historically exploited workers across industries is eminently worth reading, no matter how you feel about your job.’ — Vogue, ’13 Books for Every Hard-to-Please Person on Your List’
‘Like your best “tell it like it is”, no-nonsense friend, [Sarah Jaffe] examines the labour of love (or, indeed, the love of labour) and contests the hyper-flexed and overextended phrase, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”. … This is a self-help book on steroids.’ — Vanity Fair UK
‘[Jaffe’s] argument is nuanced, carefully researched and devastatingly convincing.’ — Marie Claire UK
‘Wry, passionate, and at times heartrending. … Jaffe explores the “labor of love” myth … and reminds us that none of this is immovable; change is always possible.’ — Teen Vogue
‘Makes a passionate case for structural change in the labour market.’ — The Jewish Chronicle
‘Sarah Jaffe is a rarity in the US. Not only is she one of the few journalists still reporting on the labour movement, but she sits on an even shorter list of writers intent on covering the everyday stories of working people through a lens of dignity and empowerment. […] Work Won’t Love You Back is ambitious in breadth [while] also reach[ing] for impressive theoretical depth.’ — Red Pepper
‘Work Won’t Love You Back brilliantly chronicles the transformation of work into a labour of love, demonstrating how this seemingly benign narrative is wreaking havoc on our lives, communities and planet. By pulling apart the myth that work is love, Jaffe shows us that we can reimagine futures built on care, rather than exploitation. A tremendous contribution.’ — Naomi Klein, author of On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal
‘This groundbreaking book will completely change how you think about work. Bringing together sharp analysis and compelling interviews, Sarah Jaffe arms us to revolt against the exploitation that workers endure in the guise of the lover’s sacrifice.’ — Paul Mason, author of PostCapitalism: A Guide to Our Future
‘As the world of work changes drastically before our eyes, this book could not be more timely. Jaffe does a fantastic job of bringing her argument to life through interviews with workers from across the class spectrum. A brilliant and persuasive book from one of the left’s most insightful and thought-provoking writers.’ — Grace Blakeley, author of The Corona Crash and Stolen: How to Save the World from Financialisation
‘Work sucks. That we are increasingly told to love it—and that some of us even do—reveals the violence at the heart of capitalism. A precise and devastating analysis, from one of the most vital voices of the left.’ — Amia Srinivasan, Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory, All Souls College, Oxford
‘We’re supposed to love our jobs. Yet work is one of the biggest sources of unhappiness in modern life. Sarah Jaffe’s smart, witty new book explodes the myth of enthusiastic workers, revealing that work always demands “love” from the people it most brutally exploits, and reminding us that the workplace has always been a place of struggle. This is a searingly intelligent, militant book from one of the sharpest journalists working today.’ — Richard Seymour, author of The Twittering Machine
‘Jaffe writes with absolute clarity on how work has taken over our lives. She charts—with brilliant precision—how we got here, what it has done to us and why resistance is mandatory. This is an urgent read for anyone concerned with freedom in the twenty-first century.’ — Dalia Gebrial, journalist and co-editor of Decolonising the University
‘Sarah Jaffe’s sharp-eyed analysis is a necessary tonic to the cloying PR of neoliberalism that tries to flog us exploitation as fulfilment and falling living standards as freedom. As we plunge deeper into economic and ecological crisis, Jaffe calls on us to count love’s labour’s true cost.’ — Eleanor Penny, writer and editor, Novara Media
‘A tremendous achievement. Jaffe’s committed, on-the-ground engagement, historical range, and ferocious gathering of revolutionary thought combine to create something genuine and profound. I cannot think of another book that ranges so widely, and yet so attentively, through the variegated landscape of our current condition, and the conflicts and struggles that have composed it. Without hyperbole, this book is a gift to its reader, and to a possible future.’ — Jordy Rosenberg, author of Confessions of the Fox
‘Jaffe has produced a convincing case to rethink not just our relationship to working, but also how we value ourselves and others in an increasingly unforgiving capitalist society. Her book is an urgent reminder to demand a future where our individual worth is not tied to our work.’ — Hussein Kesvani, author of Follow Me, Akhi
‘Jaffe takes us back to the basics of why we work and what work is for. Her analysis beautifully and yet brutally exposes the degree to which we have internalised capitalism through our attitudes to work.’ — Faiza Shaheen, Director of CLASS
‘This is a book I hope many people read. With passion, eloquence and a fierce dedication to the people she interviews, Jaffe unpacks today’s labours of the hands, the head and the heart in order to dismantle the con slogan of “love what you do”.’ — Will Stronge, Director of Research, Autonomy
‘Through sharp analyses of the recent history and social contours of each occupation, Jaffe helps us understand the contemporary landscape and provides tools to contest how we are put to work. The result is a marvellously lucid, thoroughly readable, and wonderfully engaging book.’ — Kathi Weeks, author of The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries
‘As she swaggers through history, theory and journalism in her newest book, Sarah Jaffe has written a dazzling takedown of the myth of working for love, and a call to arms for workers to invest their love and solidarity not in their jobs but in each other. This is a big book, in terms of intellectual scope, ambition and impact.’ — Molly Crabapple, artist and author of Drawing Blood
‘Dismantling the ideological fantasy of the claim that doing something you love means never working a day in your life, Work Won’t Love You Back is both a much-needed polemic on the harms our jobs can do to us and a vital investigation into what contemporary work is actually like for today’s workers.’ — Amelia Horgan, writer and researcher
‘A book of rare importance. You’ll find it on the picket-lines of sports, non-profits, art, retail, teaching, domestic work, gaming and the academy. And once you’ve finished it, you’ll find it close to your heart, too.’ — Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System
‘Many of us write books to make people think. Sarah Jaffe writes books to make you act. I can honestly say that Work Won’t Love You Back has caused me to rethink my entire relationship to how I work and live. Read it and it will change you too.’ — David Dayen, author of Chain of Title and Monopolized
‘In Work Won’t Love You Back, our finest labour journalist raises her game. Sarah Jaffe charts a path through the most painful realities of working class life in the twenty-first century, taking readers on an eye-opening journey through a remarkably varied number of industries. It’s an indispensable addition to labour journalism, labour history, and much more broadly, our understanding of what resistance looks like—and could look like—in these difficult times.’ — Dave Zirin, author of A People’s History of Sports in the United States
‘Jaffe’s decades of shrewd and discerning journalism helped her produce this excellent book. It is a multiplex in still life; a stunning critique of capitalism, a collective conversation on the meaning of life and work, and a definite contribution to the we-won’t-settle-for-less demands of the future society everyone deserves.’ — Jane McAlevey, author of A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy
‘Sassy and big-hearted, learned and astute, this chronicle of late capitalism warns against the expropriation of bodies, minds, and spirits when we confuse work with love. Through vivid portraits of service and creative workers—including home aids, interns, teachers, gamers, adjuncts and athletes—Sarah Jaffe more than indicts jobs that promise pleasure. She shows ordinary people fighting back for recognition, rights, and living wages. A stunning achievement!’ — Eileen Boris, Hull Professor of Feminist Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara
‘The scope of Jaffe’s wonderful book is stunning … Jaffe’s analysis of how capitalism learned to use affective sentiment to organise labour relations is nuanced and profound. Neoliberalism, it turns out, is a vast gaslighting project, manipulating emotions, promising not better wages but self-fulfillment in exchange for ever greater rates of value extraction. That project is collapsing, and you’ll find no better guide to help sift through the wreckage than this book.’ — Greg Grandin, C. Vann Woodward Professor of History, Yale University
Sarah Jaffe is a Type Media Center fellow and an independent journalist covering the politics of power, from the workplace to the streets. The author of Necessary Trouble, she has written for The New York Times, The Guardian, The Nation and many other outlets. She tweets as @sarahljaffe.