Esther Perel, renowned couples therapist, is starting a podcast about work

Esther Perel, the much-admired couples counselor, turns her attention to work.
Esther Perel, the much-admired couples counselor, turns her attention to work.
Image: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
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Esther Perel, the couples therapist, author, and Ted Talk favorite, has an unmatched ability to distill her observations about relationships into principles and axioms.

The Belgian-born, Israeli- and US-trained psychotherapist, who has made the US her home, doesn’t just expose our toxic habits and unexamined motives within intimate relationships, she gives us truth that we can sit with, one that just might rearrange our interactions with loved ones—not to mention links you can send to friends in need. One of my favorites is this one, from the Scandinavian talk show Skavlan, in which she explained how everything that masquerades as the cause of arguments can be boiled down to one of three themes: power and control; closeness and care; respect and recognition.

It was inevitable that her fans would notice how what Perel says about your big issues in relationships also applies to work, that other dimension of our lives that takes up much of our time and emotional energy. Quartz reporter Cassie Werber once wrote on how Perel’s basic thesis about longtime marriages is also true of the way the best companies work: You need to keep the sense of risk and anxiety native to courtship alive, while maintaining stabilizing rituals. Career coach Melody Wilding has invoked Perel on communication styles to warn of the ways that contempt for your peers, boss, or job can become poisonous.

As of next week, however, we may not require Perel interpreters for the work world, because the therapist herself is launching a podcast on the topic. Just as she has done with her Audible podcast on couples therapy,  Where Should We Begin?, she will invite listeners into real sessions with people speaking honestly about their jobs, fraught relationships with colleagues, fears of rejection, and professional aspirations. “This show is not about the workplace. It’s a show about the people who work in that place,” she says in a trailer for the new podcast, How’s Work?, which premieres Tuesday, Nov. 5, on Spotify.

How’s Work? promises to be a fresh, more intense offering in an expanding category of life-at-work advice, which currently features long standing successes like Alison Green’s Ask a Manager blog alongside newer arrivals, like the Work Friend column in the New York Times and LinkedIn’s Hello Monday podcast. Maybe it’s the tight labor market that’s driving our appetite for work-themed writing and deeper insights. More likely, it’s what Perel believes: We’re asking for more out of work than ever before.

“We have become more secularized, we have become more individualistic. We have loosened our ties to the traditional institutions, geographies, families,” she said as a guest recently on a podcast from The Cut. Work and home, she continued, are now “the two hubs where we go to experience connection, community and belonging and meaning, what used to be much more of a part of our larger structures in our religious life.”

That episode is the perfect sneak peek into what we can expect from Perel on her own new show. During the interview on The Cut’s podcast, host Molly Fischer talks about her feelings watching several colleagues quit their jobs and move on to other projects and how the departures have been “freaking her out.”

“The first question you probably have is, is there something that they’re seeing that I’m not seeing? Are they more courageous than me? You know, are they more adventurous than me?” says Perel.

When the conversation moves on to fears about the resiliency of friendships, Perel is incisive: “I mean, I hear people all the time telling me that they left and there’s very little contact with some people that they were very close to and they realized that it was circumstantial. It’s painful for many people, the sense that ‘I thought we were really close, but in fact the context created a closeness for us, and if we don’t go out and make this deliberately an important relationship, there will not be one.’”

And when Fischer says she has a morbid curiosity about what’s making other people unhappy enough to quit, Perel interrupts: “No, you actually don’t. That’s not your real question. I actually think that your real question is to wonder why is it that you have stayed six years in the same place…You want to understand you.”

At one point, Perel asks a string of questions that can surface when a peer who is also a friend leaves a job, including: “Is it that I care more about you than you care about me, if you can leave so easily? Is it as hard for you to leave me as it is hard for me to see you go?

“If I put these sentences like that, you don’t know if I’m talking about a lover or a co-worker,” she adds.

It’s hard to capture in writing Perel’s knack for speaking plainly, but empathetically, with what the New York Times once called a “French-sounding accent that implicitly seems to bolster her authority.” At Quartz at Work, we’re already so intrigued that we may need to book a couple of sessions.