The American religion is “workism,” the belief that employment can provide everything we have historically expected from churches.
As the [20th Century] managerial revolution created a sense of professional progress, the decline of organized religion and social integration in the 20th century left many Americans bereft of any sense of spiritual progress. For some, work rose to fill the void. Many highly educated workers in the white-collar economy feel that their job cannot be ‘just a job’ and that their career cannot be “just a career”: Their job must be their calling.
Workism is not a simple evil or virtue; rather, it’s a complex phenomenon. It is rooted in the belief that work can provide everything we have historically expected from organized religion: community, meaning, self-actualization. And it is characterized by the irony that, in a time of declining trust in so many institutions, we expect more than ever from the companies that employ us—and that, in an age of declining community attachments, the workplace has, for many, become the last community standing. This might be why more companies today feel obligated to serve on the front lines in political debates and culture-war battles.
Remote work and AI are challenging the ascendancy of workism.
Perhaps the disappearance of the workplace will increase modern anomie and loneliness. If community means “where you keep showing up,” then, for many people, the office is all that’s left. What happens when it goes the way of bowling leagues and weekly church attendance?
— Derek Thompson, from an upcoming book.