top of page

The Great Uncoupling: how we broke up with work

Covid-19 let the ‘genie out of the bottle’ by allowing millions to experience a better way. Companies will find it hard to put that genie back.

It’s almost 20 years since Catherine Fox and I published our book, Better Than Sex: How a Whole Generation Got Hooked on Work, about the turn-of-the-century love affair with work and careers. The book still reads well as a description of a particular period of post-industrial capitalism but we couldn’t write it today, nor could we use that title.

Since the release date in 2004, much has changed thanks to the technology that was only just emerging as a force back then and the virus that permanently transformed our physical connections with others.

Work needs a rewrite – not just because it looks very different as we head into 2022 but because for many professionals in particular it feels different too.

Far from being hooked on work, this is a generation navigating its way through the Great Uncoupling.


Consultant Jon Williams of Fifth Frame says: “We’ve known for 25 years what people want from work, what keeps them engaged – a good job that uses their skills, working for a decent boss, in an organisation they can be proud of, where they have a future.”

But the definition of that has changed with new expectations about equality, climate change, gender, LGBQTI, he says. Companies that haven’t changed are less popular employers, although Williams cautions not everyone in a society shares these values.

And a reality check: choosing a job based on a values match is a First World problem, and an economic downturn would push people towards job security and income and away from “the relative luxury” of matching work to social and purpose issues, he says.


bottom of page