Anti-capitalism is a raging issue on TikTok with young users who think about the value of productivity over health and well-being.

Americans have had it with productivity. Images: @simplifying.sam/@ramalauw/@therapyjeff, compiled by Ben Winck

In a TikTok video with 1.8 million views, one user, who goes by the name of Rama, is beaming on camera.

“Like most young people, I had a desire for an enjoyable and meaningful existence,” Rama says with a smile. “That is until I was exposed to capitalism. Today I’m in a culture where performance is more important than health, so I’m anxious and depressed every day. I’m smiling, yet I’m seriously wounded. I have three jobs, and I feel I’m not doing enough.”

Anti-capitalism dominates TikTok as users such as Rama condemn America’s acceptance of the”rat race. The pandemic has prompted many American workers to reconsider their purpose in life. Some of the youngest among those are questioning their lives and are constantly seeking the next achievement.


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“When you’re living in a capitalist society regardless of the work that you accomplish, it’s not adequate,” Jeff Guenther, a therapist, stated in one of his numerous TikTok videos that analyze the connection between self-worth and work. “Under capitalism, people get worth from doing something, not simply doing your job.”

The American approach to working with enthusiasm and productivity is taking its toll. This is the reason why it’s why the World Health Organization diagnosed burnout as a clinical condition in the year 2019, why many advocates for a 4-day working week, and the reason America enjoys the freedom of working at home. This is the reason for the post-pandemic change that we’ve witnessed at work, where employees quit in the thousands each month.

However, some who decide to quit may feel guilty as it is perceived as a failure in American workplace culture. “That sense of shame and not feeling sufficient will be present when you put your health over your work,” Guenther said.

A paycheck, passion, and a sense of achievement

Erin Cech, a sociologist at the University of Michigan, said the fusion of self and work comes from the part that the challenging and productive play within the culture. You can see this in the idolization of hustle culture, girl bosses, and unicorn-like entrepreneurs. They are status symbols.

“There’s an understanding that the best method of pursuing an occupation is to be interested in the work,” Cech said. “When you work at their jobs, they’re doing so out of a desire for satisfaction in their lives, not to make a profit.”

This mindset is a result of a set of American beliefs that state that the idea of being busy is considered romantic as long as you work more than 40 hours per week is typically the norm and jobs are the principal desires. It’s rooted in Protestant ethics, which considers working hard a sign of character. In 1905 The German sociologist Max Weber argued that Calvinism is the theological framework used by America’s first significant colonists who set the groundwork of the US economy led to the success of capitalism. The idea has been widely debated, but studies have established its validity.


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“The concept of productivity as a measure of self-worth is a social concept that is part of our society,” Cech said. “In our United States economy, particularly with white-collar workers, there is a distinct connection between having to be not just productive, but also to demonstrate one’s productive and having a sense of self-worth.”

The younger generation is at the forefront. The author of “The Trouble with Passion,” Cech documented how college students choose a profession to pursue their passion over job security and income. The reason that people feel the self-esteem they need in their jobs, Cech explained, is because they devote a lot of their energy and time to their jobs.


Generation Y has a long history of choosing their passion over money. An annual Pew Research Center survey surveyed American teens (many of whom are working in the workforce today) about their hopes for the future found that 95% believed that the prospect of a job or a career they liked was very or extremely significant to them. Gen Z is turning out the same way 42 percent of Gen Z respondents to a survey conducted this month by the company that specializes in talent Lever prefers to work at an organization that inspires an identity and purpose rather than one that pays more.

However, the desire to be productive based on a personal sense of self-worth is a strong link between productivity and self-worth, Cech said. This could explain why Gen Z and millennials Gen Z experience more anxiety and stress than previous generations.

Pressure to create afflicts both the rich and the unemployed.

One way that the desire to be productive never ceases, as per Guenther, the psychotherapist on TikTok, is when users believe they are more successful than other people. Guenther said this manifests differently for people with different social and economic statuses. Those with an upper-class background are under pressure to meet their family’s expectations, and those from less privileged feel they must be productive to live.

Cech noted that people from middle-class families, such as college students of the first generation, may be tempted to land the most well-paying, high-profile job to rise the social ladder.

“If you’re poor and struggling to make ends meet and every day can be an effort,” said Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Professor of the field of commercial psychology at Columbia University. “If you’re wealthy, the pressure of status will keep you pushing yourself to achieve more because you think that the value of your assets determines your worth. If you’re somewhere in between and you think that your earnings have remained stagnant, but life is getting more expensive, and the money you have put into your studies and job isn’t giving you the things you wanted or even a house.”


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He noted that there are apparent differences between personal and professional achievement. The long hours of work may bring more money. However, it may result in losing health, relationships, and even life itself.

“For the majority of our lives, we lived to work rather than working to live,” Chamorro-Premuzic said over email, “but now that competition for talent (including the loyalty of workers) is intense, top employers will offer a substantial sum if employees dedicate their entire lives to their jobs or their careers.”

Some people are reconsidering their self-worth due to the Great Resignation and the anti-worker wave

For sure, productivity is one of the tenets of capitalism that has fueled economic growth by creating more jobs, more meaningful consumer choices, and ingenuity. The system is designed to recognize hard-working workers, providing pay raises to employees who contribute value and profit to those who manage the most efficient enterprises.

However, it also creates a system dependent on consumer spending to power 70 percent of the economy, thereby supporting these businesses and, consequently, their employees’ wages. It also leaves out people who aren’t deemed to be productive enough. In the end, in the US, access to necessities such as healthcare and a house relies on the ability to work.

America’s dependence on productivity has redefined the value of hustle culture. Please look at The Great Resignation, the antiwork movement, and Gen Zers slowing their productivity. Peoples’ lives were given more priority over their work in the epidemic, like Insider’s Aki Ito has recently looked into.

Some people are dedicating more time to loved ones and engaging in hobbies, which, according to Chamorro Premuzic, is the only way to achieve true happiness. However, he said, “The reality is that most people struggle to follow this advice, sometimes because they aren’t convinced and other times because they’re less engaged in feeling happier than they think and more so than they declare.”

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