In Defense of Work

In Defense of Work

From burnout to quiet quitting, American workers have become disillusioned by the “work to live” mindset for many years. In Forbes, Dev Patnaik outlines how we can embrace the “live to work” mindset by reconnecting to a sense of personal purpose and making meaningful contributions to others.

“How long am I going to do this?”

That’s the question on many people’s minds as they headed back to work this new year. I’ve heard the same sentiment from CEOs to frontline employees. All of a sudden, it seems like their careers may be time-dated.

It’s easy to blame this sentiment on exhaustion. Many of us have been pulled through an emotional wringer in the past few years, drained by a pandemic, economic uncertainty, geopolitical angst, and job changes. But weariness may be only part of the problem. We may be succumbing to groupthink.

A while back, I asked my friend and mentor Alan Webber what he thought was going on. Alan was the editor of the Harvard Business Review and co-founded Fast Company magazine. Today, he’s the Mayor of Santa Fe.

As he sees it, Americans’ attitudes about work tend to swing back and forth in a twenty-year cycle. We’ll go through a phase where we see work as our primary goal in life: the “live to work” mindset. We then spend a decade or two gradually shifting to see work as just a means to achieving other life goals: the “work to live” mindset.

Alan and his partner Bill Taylor founded Fast Company in the mid-nineties when America was in the throes of the first Internet boom and some people were bringing a sleeping bag to work and living on ramen in hopes of having an IPO. That “live to work” mindset may have peaked right around the time of the dot-com bubble and the 9/11 attacks.

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Since then, the pendulum has been swinging back to a “work to live” mindset. Over the last 20 years, many of us have come to see work as a necessary evil we put up with in order to do other things. The anti-work mindset showed up in trends like gig-working, “The 4-Hour Workweek,” the FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) movement and the recent spate of quiet quitting.

I think we probably reached peak “work to live” during the pandemic, when millions of workers retreated from the office to the world of Zoom calls and pajama-clad meetings. The cost of this transition has become increasingly apparent. It’s made work feel less meaningful—and ironically more exhausting—by diminishing that vital sense that we’re contributing to the tribe. One study found that prolonged videoconferencing triggered “concerning changes” in subjects’ nervous systems, indicating heightened fatigue, reduced attention and strain on the heart. Online meetings just can’t replicate the rich sensory feedback and social dynamic that comes from interacting with people in the same room.

In their book “Younger Next Year,” Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge examined why some people start to fall apart physically and mentally in their 60s while others enjoy healthy, active lives well into their 80s and beyond. Alongside regular exercise and sensible eating, the authors find that the difference comes down to the extent to which individuals make a meaningful contribution to others, whether that’s to their company, their family, or society at large. We need to be needed.

Read full article on Forbes.

Dev Patnaik


Dev Patnaik is the CEO of Jump Associates, the leading independent strategy and innovation firm. He’s a board member of Conscious Capitalism. Dev has been a trusted advisor to CEOs at some of the world’s most admired companies, including Starbucks, Target, Nike, Universal and Virgin.