The Ezra Klein Show: “Work as identity, burnout as lifestyle”

This week’s episode of The Ezra Klein Show asks deep questions about how millennials think about work.

The millennial burnout narrative gained momentum with Anne Helen Petersen‘s viral Buzzfeed News article “How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation.” The idea that, particularly college-educated millennials, are working longer hours for lower (and sometimes no) pay, than previous generations.

Ezra Klein had Petersen and The Atlantic reporter Derek Thompson, who wrote an article on “workism” or the idea that millennials look for meaning in work, on this week to discuss the phenomenon.

I drop into The Ezra Klein Show when I can because the Vox co-founder engages in in-depth conversations with a diverse array of thought leaders across the ideological spectrum. You’re as likely to hear from the leading proponent of Modern Monetary Theory as you are Ross Douthat or Arthur Brooks, and Ezra affords guests he disagrees with a level of respect that is rare in modern political discourse.

This week’s episode asks deep questions about how millennials think about work. Thompson’s thesis is that with a decline in social institutions like Rotary clubs and religion, millennials look for meaning in work, which leads them to “never stop hustling” which itself leads to spiritual and physical exhaustion.

This goes against predictions from early 20th century economists, most famously John Maynard Keynes, that increased productivity would lead people to work less. Contra to economic theory, richer Americans actually work longer hours than poorer Americans, which was not the case as recently as 1980.

Thompson also talks about how work has become “leaky,” innovations like cell phones and emails ensure that workers are never out of their manager’s reach. And Petersen talks about how social media has itself become a form of work, she suggests that millennials LARP — or live-action role play — their jobs and lives on social media for the approval of others.

It’s a particularly poignant episode of The Ezra Klein Show, especially for those of my generation. If you’re looking for an episode to dip your toe in, you could do a lot worse.

Listen here.

New episodes of The Ezra Klein Show appear on Mondays and Thursdays.