Bullshit Jobs

It is true that much of half the work we do could actually be eliminated without any significant effect on the overall productivity?

Would shutting down the global work machine put a break on climate change?

15 hours per week!

Imagine that your job was to write a two-page report for a meeting where the document was never discussed.  The job pays you £12,000.

This little nugget is from the thought-provoking book  Bullshit Jobs: A Theory by David Graeber. Polls have shown that 37 percent of people in the UK did not believe that their job made a meaningful contribution to the world. But more than half of these people would not leave their jobs.

The author dedicates the book “To anyone who would rather be doing something useful with themselves.” But despite that we all probably would like to do something useful, we have created a world with meaningless and unfulfilling jobs. And most shocking of it all is that BS jobs are rising.

It is indeed difficult to imagine that companies that should be driven to be productive have created a pile of meaningless work. The book offers no real explanation for this. Yet, the book offers several plausible explanations to why someone would stay in jobs that they despise. We have been lured into believing that our self-worth lies in having a job. Also, we need the money.

Exactly how many jobs that are meaningless is tricky to estimate. The number is also subjective. David identifies five categories, yet a job may belong to several categories and there may be more categories.

  • Flunkies exist to make bosses look good. They are like an underemployed receptionist. For example, a Portfolio Coordinator whose job description says that the job is to facilitate relationship, but the work consists of answering occasional queries.
  • Goons (PR workers, lobbyists, telemarketers) exist because others also employ people in such roles. For example, call centre jobs selling things that no one needs or wants to buy, or conducting pointless marking reserach.
  • Duct-tapers jobs only exist to fix organisational glitches that should not exist. For exemple, copying things into Excel by hand when this could be automated.
  • Box-tickers allow an organisation to claim it is doing something it actually is not doing. For example, interviewing people and filling out a form about what they want, filing the form and then forgetting about it.
  • Taskmasters supervise people who do not require supervision. For example, unnecessary supervisors who are allocating and then monitoring that someone is actually doing it, even though there is no reason to assume that they would behave differently if they were not monitored.

Most of all this is a brave book. It explores ideas that many of us already know but we would never dare to express. This book gives you the courage to say out loud that many of us are doing jobs that are unnecessary. It gives you permission to challenge the underlying values with jobs. Our sense of self-worth is often caught up in working for a living.

“We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everyone has to be employed at some sort of drudgery, because, according to Malthusian Darwinian theory, he must justify his right to exist”.  Buckminster Fuller.

BS jobs are dangerous in many ways. There can be nothing more soul-destroying than “being forced to commit acts of arbitrary bureaucratic cruelty against one’s will.”

An example of how a company got rid of meningsless work is a software company that wanted to improve their sales. Instead of increasing the amount of account managers, they fired all of them.  Now the software developers talk directly to the client. This compnay won a competion for the most client friendly company.

David believes that an unconditional sum of cash for all citizens would free people from meaningless jobs and allow them to make a real contribution.

Are there any other possible solutions to the meaningless jobs than the universal basic income?





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