Sunday, July 15, 2018

Bullshit Jobs

I had to laugh. An article appeared in the "Weekend Australian" supplement magazine about "bullshit jobs". It was an extract from "Bullshit Jobs - A Theory" by David Graeber (Allen Lane Pub)

Graeber categorizes employees into "flunkies, goons, duct tapers, box tickers, and taskmasters." He spoke about those jobs where occupants don't seem, to outsiders, to do much of anything eg, HR consultants, communications co-ordinators, financial strategists, corporate lawyers, and middle managers who seem to spend their time staffing committees.

It reminded me of three things:

  1. The occasional quips I had made to my wife who was a registered nurse and midwife for 40 plus years
  2. HR and other middle management jobs I had held during my 51 years in the workforce
  3. The job titles of people that were ridiculously overspecified for what they did
Once every few years, simply to get a laugh, I'd ask my wife why she "doesn't get a real job" based on my claim that childbirth is a natural event that has been going on for millions of years and why would you need several years of university education to do the job. She always bit and assured me that it was far more complicated than I could imagine. I knew that was the truth, but it was always good to get a reaction when things were going quiet.

As a human resources specialist, I knew that people thought we sat on our hands warming our seats, only doing something when someone had to be retrenched or recruited.  Obviously, the author knew nothing about the multi-functional role of human resources staffs that includes:  recruitment, induction, training and development, performance management, occupational health and safety, worker's compensation, salary administration, interpretation of employment contracts and awards, succession planning, and HR planning and budgeting. 

As an employee within an Australian Government agency, you were also expected to do things not strictly within your role, like standing in for managers from other disciplines when they were on leave or otherwise absent; representing the agency at various fora.

So, as you would imagine, I disagreed with many of the author's suggestions. Even corporate lawyers do have a real job, all one has to do is watch the numerous series of "Suits" to see that.

During my various careers, I did come across people whose job title was absolutely ridiculous for what they did. For example, in the sales field (selling almost anything), staffs are given ridiculously grand titles to make them and their products seem better - something everyone needs.

There were the bank clerks whose offices were embellished with the title, "Accountant" although they held no actual accounting qualifications. The Lifesavers sweets sales representative called a "Sales Manager" along with several other colleagues all of whom had the same grand title.

Then there was the "Mortgage Enhancement Officer" whose role was to move your mortgage from another bank to theirs. 

I recall my dear father scolding me one day for laughing at a labourer digging a hole who had dirt all over him.  He correctly told me that if the job didn't need doing, nobody would be doing it, therefore his job (the labourer's) was as important as anyone else's (including my father's who was a mechanical and electrical engineer). Since then, I have always valued the work done by people.

My view is that if you feel your job is a bullshit job, that you aren't contributing anything to your organisation and society, then you need to move on. Find something else where you are contributing because at the end of the day, when you come home from work you want to know that you have made a difference.


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