Home' HR Monthly : August 2018 Contents 44
One big empty space
David Graeber calls time on all those pointless jobs.
BY AMANDA WOODARD
BY DAVID GRAEBER
David Graeber, an
anthropologist at the
London School of
achieved notoriety for a 2013 essay, ‘On the
Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs’, which addressed
roles “which even the person doing the job can’t
really justify the existence of, but they have to
pretend that there’s some reason for it to exist”.
Technology is predicted to make some jobs
obsolete and our working hours shrink. Instead,
working hours have increased, and across the
developed world, three-quarters of all jobs
are in services and not contributing anything
material to society.
Graeber thinks that, since many of these
bullshit jobs make no financial sense, they
function instead as a way to keep people busy
or subdued. His examples don’t come only from
the former Soviet Union or Communist China,
but are rooted in contemporary society and
across all industries.
He sees the epicentre of the bullshitisation
of jobs as “information work”, and it has
proliferated in financial services, accountancy,
advertising, IT, law and consultancy, and also
begun to spread to media and the creative arts.
This ‘empty’ work has a thoroughly
dispiriting effect: lengthy testimonials from
people who share their experiences of bullshit
jobs reveal an overwhelming unhappiness and
Graeber also charts what he calls the
‘infatuation with hierarchy’ that has led to
layers of unnecessary roles. “Every dean needs
his vice-dean and sub-dean, and each of them
needs a management team, secretaries, admin
staff,” he quotes from an anonymous British
academic, by way of example.
Yet unnecessary jobs are exactly what
capitalism is not meant to be about, says
Graeber, predicated as it is on maximising profit
and minimising loss.
Instead, what has become common practice
in so many industries are huge, unwieldy
contracts designed to go on interminably and
which also cost the earth.
So where is all this leading? Graeber is an
activist rather than a policy wonk, but he does
explore the impact of universal basic income, a
solution being promoted by social movements
and trialled in Finland.
One advantage of UBI, he says, is to
detach work from compensation and put an
end to the dilemmas described in this book.
For anyone interested in the future of work,
this is a compelling and revealing addition to
the conversation. •••
DISRUPTION: THE FOUR
FORCES BREAKING ALL
By Richard Dobbs, James
Manyika and Jonathan Woetzel
PUBLIC AFFAIRS, 2015 $18.28
This insightful report focuses
on four disruptive trends that business leaders
must contend with: the rise of cities; the pace of
technological change; the ageing of the world’s
population; and new patterns of global trade
and information f low. Dobbs, Manyika and
Woetzel show how these trends bring both risk
and opportunity. Their view is a trifle optimistic
– they seem to understate the potential effects
of environmental disruptions and political
instability. A guide for anyone seeking to
understand the forces shaping today’s world.
THE GIG ECONOMY:
THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO
GETTING BETTER WORK,
TAKING MORE TIME OFF,
AND FINANCING THE LIFE
By Diane Mulcahy
AMACOM, 2016 $24.64
Full-time employment, once the quintessence
of security and stability, is increasingly rare.
Employers create fewer full-time positions and
outsource existing work. For growing numbers
of job seekers, working independently is a safer
bet. Living without a corporate safety net may
sound precarious, but with proper planning,
it is possible to manage a freelance career that
approaches the stability of a full-time job.
At least, that’s what this book posits. Holding
out the prospect of more control over your
work and life, this breezy, entertaining how-to
manual offers a blueprint for assembling and
managing a diversified portfolio of work.
Mulcahy outlines failsafe approaches to saving,
vacations, homeownership and retirement
planning. getAbstract recommends her manual
to anyone seeking an alternative to the cubicle,
assembly line or corner office.
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