The Work Issue
Work is broken, and it’s breaking us. So where do we go from here?
I am privileged to be able to say that I love the work I do. I find meaning, purpose, and even a sense of identity in my work here at YES! Media. But I also know that, compared to many people in this country, I am in the minority.
Research backs that up: Just 33% of employees in the United States and Canada told Gallup that their job meets their basic needs, offers them opportunities to contribute and learn, and provides a sense of belonging. Yet that percentage is still the highest of any region in the world.
America’s particular brand of capitalistic individualism, under which many of us were raised, tells us that our jobs are both necessary—to provide the financial means to secure our basic needs, like food, shelter, and health care—and should also be fulfilling. The economic, social, and political upheaval of recent years, compounded with a rampant pandemic, laid bare just how fragile and incapable of meeting those needs this system truly is. Work is broken, and it’s breaking us.
But the question looms large: If work is broken, what do we do about it? While there is already an abundance of resources dedicated to managing the “hybrid office” or determining which employee wellness programs best promote retention, YES! has always been about understanding the deeper causes, and uncovering the solutions, to what ails us most. Those solutions, we believe, are what lead to transformative change.
So this issue begins by exploring how we got to where we are—why work dominates our time, our lives, and our minds. And because transformation is a gradual process, we look at the ways people are changing the idea of work under the systems and conditions in which we now find ourselves: underpaid undergraduates forming their own unions, labor organizers translating traditional tactics for today’s technological era, a closer look at the data behind the much-discussed “Great Resignation.” We explore success stories from a café upending capitalism in upstate New York, climate and labor organizers recognizing their common cause, and a Colorado program that aims to provide sustainable support to in-home child care workers—just one set of undercompensated workers abruptly reclassified as “essential” when COVID-19 swept the globe.
But transformation also requires vision, and the ability to conceive of something better than what we know today. So this issue also embraces ideas that might seem radical: What if our definition of work included rest? Or what if we abolished work altogether? Neither is as far-fetched as it might seem.
Here at YES!, we try to practice what we preach. In January, we began a trial four-day/32-hour work week without salary cuts. While the path has occasionally been bumpy, the results are clear: Our staff is happier and feels more balanced, and we’ve maintained our quality and output of work. So we intend to continue this policy. Sometimes transformation requires leading by example, taking a risk, and trusting the people around you. That’s the kind of world in which I want to live—and work.
YES! Editorial Director
Feature photo: In her eight years of providing in-home child care, Olivia Hernandez says she has only taken one sick day. “Caregivers sometimes pay for extra food or medicine for the children of low-income families we serve,” she says. “But we don’t hold back [any care from the families we serve] to take care of ourselves.” Photo by Jimena Peck