Laziness Does Not Exist review

I picked up this book based on the description. I recently read Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation, and these two books touched on very similar themes that counter a popular narrative that “kids today” don’t know what hard work is. And it’s not even just Millennials who deal with this (though I do see them receiving the brunt of it), it’s anyone working in a post-2008 recession-era who is underpaid and watched their job benefits dry up. Whatever expectations we had about going to college and scoring a well-paying job in a field you enjoy has… not happened for so many of us. It’s a constant conversation I see play out on social media, even as recently this week, of how my generation in particular was told to go to college (which entailed going into debt) and we would practically be guaranteed a good job when we go our degree. But how many baristas do you know how have master’s degrees? I know plenty of retail workers with bachelor’s and master’s degrees. And even if you do land a full-time professional job, it may not pay you well enough to live off of. I took my first professional library job with a starting salary of $32,000. If I hadn’t been living with my grandmother at the time, I would not have been able to survive on that salary. Student loans and spiking gas prices alone would have forced me to either take another job or not be able to pay rent. I got a master’s degree to get out of retail, and then continued to be paid retail-like wages until I found another job over a year later.

Anyway, Laziness Does Not Exist hit a few heads of nails for me. I found a lot of truth in the author’s narrative, on how underpaid so many of us are, how the gig economy has resulted in people who are working three different gig jobs with no benefits in the hope that maybe one of them will be the breakthrough they need to only need to work one job, and how we have been conditioned to believe that if we’re not doing something productive in nearly every aspect of our life, we’re lazy and unworthy of praise or assistance. The author interviewed numerous people with similar stories of wrecking their health in the pursuit of being productive. Some haven’t been able to change anything about their working lives, and others have gratefully been able to make changes to have a less stressful existence.

One critique I have of the book is the author is based in Chicago (I don’t mind that, I’m also from Chicago), and a lot of their interviews are with people they know in Chicago. I think registering how people in big American cities deal with this particular issue is valid and needed, and certainly a good basis to build off of, but I would be VERY interested in hearing how people outside this particular bubble of people grasp the concept of laziness and how to combat it. Does a Southern baptist minister recognize this with his congregation? Do office workers in a smaller college town also have these problems? Do people in the Boomer generation see this as a problem with the people they employ, and with themselves? Really, this book is only a starting point of addressing the problem of workers being deemed “lazy” if they aren’t constantly seen as working and hustling. (Think about how most cashiers in chain stores aren’t provided with chairs, and must be on their feet for their full shift.)

I found a lot to identify with in this book, and think it enters very well with the issues we have with people working full-time not being paid enough to live off of those full-time hours. How retail and food&beverage workers have been considered “essential” during our current crisis, but as soon as people demand better pay the jobs are suddenly seen as menial and not for people to stay in long term especially if they would simply get a better education.

The book ends up being a little bit of a therapy session, with the author identifying problems that persist, and offering mindset changes and other more concrete solutions and troubleshoots to combating them. I appreciated having that to help balance out the kind of despair that permeates through the narrative of so many workers who seem similar to me and my friends who struggle with how we define work and what their boundaries are. I would like to see follow-up from this book where business owners are confronted with what their workers endure and how that gets exploited. That may be WAY too big of a project for this one author, but using this book and the knowledge it contains can only add to the mounting evidence that the American work culture is broken and not helpful to those it should be benefiting.

Around the time I was reading this book, I also saw this article from Jill Lepore on “What’s Wrong With the Way We Work?” that also stresses many of the same points as author Devon Price does. This is going to keep being brought up again and again until something changes. And now my senses are heightened to recognize it.

I received a digital ARC from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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