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Meaningless Jobs Created by Hierarchy

The book Bullshit Jobs highlighted two things to me; The reason why you need to flatten organisations and that you will always struggle with motivation and engagement as long as you have these jobs in organisations. 

In 2013, anthropologist David Graeber published an article in Strike! Magazine titled "On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs." The article went viral and struck a chord with many people who felt that their jobs were meaningless and did not contribute anything of value to society. Graeber expanded on his ideas in his 2018 book, "Bullshit Jobs: A Theory," which explores the rise of meaningless jobs in modern society. Graeber defines a bullshit job as "a form of paid employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence." He argues that these jobs exist not because they are necessary but because they serve a symbolic function of reinforcing the belief in the moral virtue of work. According to Graeber, bullshit jobs come in many forms.

  • The flunkies—who serve no purpose other than to make others feel important. Flunky jobs require people to work to make other people above them look good in the organisational structure. Examples include receptionists in firms without visitors or callers, CEOs and senior leaders without power, or doormen in luxury hotels.

  • The goons - who do jobs that are essentially harmful to society often try to sell things people neither need nor want. These jobs have an aggressive element and may only exist because other firms have similar roles, such as corporate lawyers, some call centre employees, and lobbyists. 

  • The duct tapers - who exist to fix problems that wouldn't exist if their job didn't exist in the first place. Duct tapers fix problems that should not continue to be a problem. If the firm were better organised, then the jobs would not exist. For example, data checkers are used in the absence of a spreadsheet with a v-lookup formula or AI. In fact, all jobs today that are done manually or on Excel sheets that can be done by AI fall under this. Most of those jobs are probably in Finance. You do not need an accounting department. It all could be done by technology, and employees know that. It is a stupid job, to say the least. 

  • The box-tickers—who exist to cover up organisations' non-doings. Box-ticking jobs allow an organisation to say it is doing something it is not doing, such as CSR, Diversity, or Mental Health programmes. Employee engagement and other HR nonsense fall under the same category. 

  • The Taskmasters – who exist to assign work to other people. Taskmasters exist to either supervise people who don’t need supervision and/or create new bullshit jobs that do not need to be done. For example, Strategy leaders in academia or corporations. You have seen the rise of “VP of Strategy” roles. LOL! Supervisors and managers often fall into this category, especially when they are promoted for retention reasons and not because the role is needed. 

One of the main causes of bullshit jobs, Graeber argues, is the expansion of bureaucracy in modern society. As organisations grow larger and more complex, they require more managers, administrators, and support staff to keep everything running. However, many of these jobs are redundant and could be eliminated without any impact on the organisation's productivity.

As organisations grew, they built hierarchies because they believed layers would lead to higher productivity. Unfortunately, the exact opposite seems to be true. Today, we spend 39% of our time doing the actual job we were hired for and most of our time with other BS created by the hierarchy we all love to nurture. Just look at the picture below and tell me if it is motivating. There is nothing motivational about a day or a week that looks like this. It is a waste of time created by the hierarchy that focuses more on looking good from the outside than on making a profit and having motivated people. 

From the book: Bullshit Jobs 

Do you have a bullshit job? You probably do, especially if you are working in large corporations' offices. Those roles are all made up, a fiction, and you know that. This is why you call it soul-sucking, the reason you are burned out and struggle with your sense of purpose. It's not you who doesn't have a purpose or is struggling with an existential crisis; it is the job you signed up for. And you know that; that's why you say, "Nothing would happen if I disappeared tomorrow." And you are right. Nothing would happen, hence, HR won't fill that role again or hire someone even less competent and cheaper to replace you. 

Exciting news! My second book, "Blind Leading the Disengaged - From Kindergarten to Employee Experience," is dropping in April! It's a treasure trove of solutions and cool ideas to shake up your people management game. But before we get there, let's chat about where we're at now—The Corporate Kindergarten, as I spilt the beans in my first book. Check it out, and let's transform your workplace from a daycare to an awesome employee experience hub!:

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