The Workin’ Life: A Special Report

“So, what do you do?” It’s the party question guaranteed to stir up a cocktail of anxieties. In the ancien régime, Miss Manners tells us, the question would have been impertinent, at least among aristocrats, whose badge of honor was that they didn’t do anything. Today, to a dangerous degree, we are what we do. No wonder, then, that downsizing, while all the rage on Wall Street in the late ’80s, terrified even the toughest yuppie. A different kind of rage could be detected among the employees left behind, such that even shareholders noticed the effect on morale and performance. One result: a new corporate enthusiasm for “soul” in the workplace. Milton Moskowitz takes measure of this movement and lists 20 companies he believes embody it. Ann Monroe and Marci Baker interview several New Yorkers who have found soul-satisfying work. And Daniel Yankelovich warns that winning companies must rebuild employee trust to compete in the global economy. Will they? Even as the economy has soared, secure and fulfilling jobs remain elusive for most. Josh Clark interviews experts who argue those jobs are gone forever, a prediction that leaves a vexing question for the entire nation: “So, what do you do?”