Do You Have a BS Job?

21 Jun

If someone has a gig that only requires 15 hours of work a week, is it really necessary? What are the consequences of hiring them? Does your feeling of self worth decline if you know your job is meaningless?

My favorite radio hosts were talking about the danger of the “laptop class” losing their $200K jobs and how that will deepen our current recession. What do I mean by “laptop class?” These are the people objecting to / refusing to go back to the office after working from home for the past two years. People whose jobs allow them to do their work from anywhere. What many have found is that many of those people can get their job done in 15 hours a week, which leaves 25 hours to do… whatever they want. And it’s a lot easier to fake working when you’re not in the office.

As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in my office–there is two people on this floor–thirty-five cubicles, all but five assigned to current employees. This tells you two things: 1) my workplace suffers from this very problem and 2) I’m part of the problem. After all, I’m writing a blog post when I should be working, but I’m one of those folks who can get their job done in 15 hours a week… some weeks more, some less, but it does make me realize I have a BS job.

Of course, I’ve realized this for some time. In fact, I’ve sought a 15 hour work week for some time. The term 15 hour work week comes from John Maynard Keynes, who predicted in 1930 that automation would lead to people working less…. but we’re working more than ever. Why? Because of what David Graeber calls “BS Jobs.” He contends that half of all societal jobs are pointless…. and you know they’re pointless, but you have to pretend as if they aren’t.

He breaks these down into five types:

Flunkies, who serve to make their superiors feel important, e.g., receptionists, administrative assistants, door attendants, store greeters, makers of websites whose sites neglect ease of use and speed for looks;

Goons, who act to harm or deceive others on behalf of their employer, e.g., lobbyistscorporate lawyerstelemarketerspublic relations specialists, community managers;

Duct Tapers, who temporarily fix problems that could be fixed permanently, e.g., programmers repairing bloated code, airline desk staff who calm passengers whose bags do not arrive;

Box Tickers, who create the appearance that something useful is being done when it is not, e.g., survey administrators, in-house magazine journalists, corporate compliance officersquality service managers;

Taskmasters, who create extra work for those who do not need it, e.g., middle managementleadership professionals.

Wikipedia

My current job falls under the taskmasters–or technically, I work for the taskmasters–and the fact that frequently my ability to complete a task is stalled by my boss. At first, I just thought that was because I work in government… but now I’m wondering if it’s the nature of my subject. The question is… why do I even have a job? Shouldn’t someone question why we’re paying for this? No, says Graeber, because in any bureaucracy, number of employees equal power. If HR admits they don’t need ten people, they get less of a budget next year, which means they don’t have as much power in the company.

So as I joke with my friends, I make sure that the head of my department doesn’t know my name. This is not really a joke. Because if the department head knows my name, they might ask, “What does Marcus do?” And if they find the answer is “Not much,” he might ask, “Then why are we paying him?” So I hide in my fortress of solitude on the 3rd floor; the department head is on the 7th and no one knows the other is here.

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