A group of people standing around a table in a meeting room.

The Religion of Work – by Mary T. O’Sullivan

By Mary T. O’Sullivan, MSOL

[Workism] is the belief that work is not only necessary to economic production, but also the centerpiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose; and the belief that any policy to promote human welfare must always encourage more work. – Derek Thompson in The Atlantic

Now that I’m older and somewhat wiser, I’ve taken a different view of work. I once poured myself into my career, and worked inside buildings without windows for years, missing beautiful days, kid’s school activities, and family gatherings. I loved work. Every connection I made, every friend, every conversation was a way to  delve further into unlocking the mysteries of professional networking, soaking up more information, learning more nuances of the business landscape, all to have some morsel of advantage over my competitors. I took numerous courses, some very expensive, so I would be more qualified. I spent a lot of my own money as an “investment” in self-betterment, attending conferences out of town, signing up for courses and attending high profile meetings I couldn’t afford. I hired an outside event planner to help me stage live events, rented hotel conference rooms and museum space, and waited for sponsors who promised to defray the cost of my event to show up and pay me for their assured support. Several times I was stiffed. Even so, I pushed forward, spending big dollars for my website design, artists, copywriters, public relations people, and administrative services.

To fill my events, I spent days on the phone calling 50-100 people to get 20 bodies in a room. I devoted hours to calling prospects, setting up free appointments, all the while, hoping to build my coaching business and serving the professionals who are my ideal clients. At one point, I belonged to five chambers of commerce, and three women’s groups hoping to connect with just the right person to give me the key that opened the magic doors of influence and prosperity. I even spent money on golf lessons, and bought a set of golf clubs, in expectation of mingling with decision makers and other movers and shakers, and thereby attaining their” know, like and trust” factor.

What I didn’t realize at the time, was that I had become a “workist”.  As defined by Michael Tuscano in First Things, a workist is a person whose “work is their priority, their imperative, their strategy, their solution, their delight, their governing philosophy.” Workism makes working long hours a status symbol. We used to call these people “workaholics”.  But with that word being associated with the work ethic of the 1980s and 1990s, a new term had to be coined to reflect the religiosity now associated with work. The authors observe that work has overtaken faith and church attendance as the center piece of people’s lives. Leisure is frowned upon, and if forced upon a workist, they’ll take the work with them, ignoring the fun or beauty they might otherwise be enjoying. After all, a workist’s identity is wrapped up in working.

Ironically the title of his article is “Workism Isn’t Working”, the subject of a new attitude toward work. People are stepping back from the 18-hour days devoted to work simply because they are tired of it. Pandemic and post pandemic alternative work settings forced some workaholics to stay home, many eventually learned to appreciate the change. In fact, as found in a LinkedIn article “According to Washington University researchers, the highest-earning 10% of men worked 77 fewer hours in 2022 than they did just three years prior, while the highest-earning women worked 29 fewer hours.” The article goes on to say that Quiet Quitting is among the reasons for fewer work hours. People are just not going overboard, above and beyond their scope of duties anymore.

I find this to be true for myself now as well. I no longer hold work intensive events, either live or present webinars, or workshops. I belong to two chambers of commerce now, and one women’s group. I play golf and pickleball for fun, not for contacts. Since I wrote my book, I only attend a conference if I can promote the book and ask attendees to sign up for a complimentary consultation. At this point in my career, I’m invited to speak, to conduct workshops, and even teach webinars and college courses, all for payment. Without exerting much effort. I’m glad it worked out this way because I’ve been quietly quitting my job over the last three years. The pandemic had a huge influence on my attitude toward work. I worked so hard to obtain my goals prior to the pandemic; I couldn’t imagine working harder than I had after the pandemic.  

Next year is another milestone birthday for me. It may be time to view work as an interesting hobby, and apply myself to volunteering, gardening, dog training, and making new friends through my golf and pickleball connections – now that I’m older and wiser.

“Some people worship beauty, some worship political identities, and others worship their children. But everybody worships something. And workism is among the most potent of the new religions competing for congregants.” – Derek Thompson

Connect with Mary:

Connect with Mary:

Read all Mary’s columns here:

Mary T. O’Sullivan, Master of Science, Organizational Leadership, International Coaching Federation Professional Certified Coach, Society of Human Resource Management, “Senior Certified Professional. Graduate Certificate in Executive and Professional Career Coaching, University of Texas at Dallas. Member, Beta Gamma Sigma, the International Honor Society. Advanced Studies in Education from Montclair University, SUNY Oswego and Syracuse University. Mary is also a certified Six Sigma Specialist, Contract Specialist, IPT Leader and holds a Certificate in Essentials of Human Resource Management from SHRM.

Buy My Book

[email protected]