One of the fascinating points Philipson raises is how new our current societal structure is. “Family and community began to dissolve in the 1960s and 1970s, in part due to a desire in our culture for greater personal freedom, individual expression and self-fulfillment” (73). Ironically, our quest for freedom “has been thwarted as we all – mean and women alike – are more tethered to work than ever before” (73). A strong hook to work is our need for relationships, which current theories in human development also emphasize by stressing that a solid relationship network is a sign of a mature adult. Because the rest of our lives are often lacking relationships, relationships at work have become extremely important. Philipson cites research that underscores this: quality of relationships is more important than pay and other perks (91). At the same time, though, work is changing, giving us less security but more opportunity to harness our own strengths by creating the Brand You, as Tom Peters put it (98). Many people find this liberating; others however are left hanging (100). Philipson summarizes the old and new ways employers relate to their employees with this table on page 116:
The Old Way The New Way Security Opportunity Detachment Total Commitment Hierarchy We’re All Equal Work and Fun Don’t Mix Pamper Me It’s Just a Job It’s So Much More
Jobs now offer a means to a prefabricated life, complete with a neighborhood like campus feel. This is especially beneficial for people who are looking “for a means of anchoring themselves in a fragmented world” (133). And management gurus seem to encourage that. Work as a community-replace comes at a very high cost, though, because jobs today no longer offer security: the community can evaporate the moment we’re laid off. If we cannot thrive on the new way by creating the Brand You, for whatever reason, this new way is a catch-22: we are asked to define ourselves through work, yet that definition might “crumble when it is revealed that their employer ultimately has to respect the bottom line over care, culture, and comforts. Their pain is often rooted in the contradiction between what employers tell their employees they are doing, that is, working together as a team, creating a family or community where everyone’s opinions are valued, promoting a shared purpose – and what they actually do – that is, lay off, demote, transfer, promote, and downsize based on the needs of shareholders or venture capitalists, rather than those of employees” (144). In other words, they are not really keeping their end of the bargain: we are asked to give our all for nothing long-term. And there’s even a more insidious side to this: “because of the decline of family life, communities, labor unions, civic life, and trust in the authority of the sate, there are simply no countervailing voices to question the power of business and faith in the market” (146). Corporations are viewed as the provider of answers to our social ills and we are lulled into believing that what is good for business, is good for us all.
Most of the cases Philipson dealt with who were disenchanted by the new economy when their assumption of an implicit contract was breached are women. Philipson suggests that as women, we are especially vulnerable to the attractions of the new economy. We love to belong and feel needed! We are quick with defining ourselves through outside sources. But, as Betty Friedan before her, Philipson argues, “the woman who is married to her job can be seen as suffering from a problem that has no name” (177). The problem is made hers, though: “The expectation that she should work ceaselessly but with few institutional anchors, little care or attention and often no economic security is never raised. Because to work in such a fashion, today, in the United States, is natural God given” (177). Philipson argues that this is also how women, especially, get trapped. Be it from nature or nurture, we tend to “have greater interests in emotional and economic security from [our] jobs” (181). She summarizes “I am suggesting that on the continuum of fit – who better fits the requisites of the new economy- women may be more askew” (182). Because of this, women are more likely to be married to the job, the problem that now has a name.
Philipson proceeds to provide us with guidelines on how we can become less married to our jobs, which include setting clear boundaries and keeping to a to your hours (188-190). She also encourages us to find a safe place where we can talk about our experience at work, such as psychotherapy (191). In addition to teaching us to set boundaries, for example, it also can help us heal from the unrealistic expectation that led us to be married to the job by giving us a vocabulary to talk about our experience. Simply finding the words, naming the problem, can help us heal. But Philipson also acknowledges the limitations of this approach: after we describe what is happening, set boundaries, then what? (217). How do we meet our needs for belonging and identity can only be met by our jobs because the fragmented world around us cannot meet them (217)? Philipson emphasizes that talking can only be the beginning, when need to “question our basic cultural assumptions and values” (217). Only then can we create new ways of relating that avoid the trappings of living to work. To underscore this call for deep dialog, Philipson recounts the story of one of her clients, Lin, an Asian-American of second generation who displayed all the outward signs of success, including receiving numerous employee-of-the-year awards. She had been admitted for a suicide attempt because her life has lost all meaning after she had been laid off from her job. Behind the façade of success, there was “a life without depth, connection, or meaning” (220). The American dream had turned into a nightmare. Having had the rug pulled out from under her by losing the job she had given her all to, Lin saw herself as a total failure because she could not make it on her own. Philipson points out that the requirement to make it on one’s own has only recently become a societal value (225). We used to be plugged into a large network of support that assisted us in our lives. By tying our worth as a human being to whether we can make it on our own, we have introduced indifference into our social fabric (226). Indifference defines market transactions, which is how we see work, and it is in opposition to love and connection, leaving us alone and isolated. However, the most deep-seated belief that prevents us from creating a more caring, connecting, and meaningful society, is our belief that we are “shallow, fundamentally consumerist, and blindly self interested” (234). Only if we start acknowledging our needs and interdependence and question our current ways of meeting them can we change our society. Philipson ends her book with a call to “finding ways of connecting with, committing to, and caring about each other” (235). Adopting this as our individual and societal goal allows us to find new answers defining the way we live and how we derive personal worth.
This is a rare book because it addresses both the personal and the system side. While Philipson outlines ways we can counteract our temptation to marry our job, she also points out the limitation of those ways because of society’s influence on us. Philipson does not stop at describing those influences, she also points to ways we can change the underlying values by starting to ask crucial questions. Her book is especially important because we are barraged with books that attempt to increase our connection to work, to make it more attractive to be married to the job without looking at the dark side that Philipson so eloquently described in her book.