December 03, 2020

23 Best Highlights from Bullshit Jobs

Sam Caucci

I have spent the last several years exploring work.

I’ve engulfed myself in conversations, research, and reading on everything that matters to today’s workforce and the future of work. A few issues I’ve recently delved into include: the origins of labor, how the brain learns, why job training is largely ineffective, how to use technology to increase employee engagement, and how to make our workforce more fair and just.

My exploration has taken me down all types of rabbit holes. One of which led me to the book “Bullshit Jobs: A Theory,” by anthropologist David Graeber.

David Graeber’s groundbreaking book argues that nearly half of the jobs that exist today are meaningless. The benefits of AI and automation have not led to the 15-hour workweek John Maynard Kenes predicted in 1930, but have instead created millions of “bullshit jobs.” And that reality causes a lot of societal and psychological harm since our culture measures self-worth almost entirely by our work and productivity.

A lot of leaders in the workforce space might find Graeber’s book controversial. I think everyone who wants to empower workers and create a future of work that’s more equitable and just has a responsibility to think critically about our workforce, which is why I’ve put together the top 23 best highlights from “Bullshit Jobs” to share with you today.

These are the 23 points that make up our game on “Bullshit Jobs,” which has just been added to our on-demand game shop at 1Huddle. The shop has thousands of games on bestselling work-related books, and “Bullshit Jobs” is one of my favorites. It’s innovative, it’s audacious, and it will change your perspective on work.

So check out all of my highlights below and then get ready (if you are up for it) to play one of the shop’s most popular games, Bullshit Jobs:

  1. We have established three broad categories of jobs: Useful jobs (which may or may not be low-paying shit jobs), bullshit jobs, and a small but ugly penumbra of jobs such as gangsters, slumlords, top corporate lawyers, or hedge fund CEOs, made up of people who are basically selfish bastards and don’t really pretend to be anything else.
  2. A con job is an act, not a profession.
  3. The final working definition of bullshit jobs: “A bullshit job is a form of paid employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence even though, as part of the conditions of employment, the employee feels obliged to pretend that this is not the case.”
  4. Shit jobs tend to be blue collar and pay by the hour, whereas bullshit jobs tend to be white collar and salaried.
  5. The 5 types of bullshit jobs:
    • Flunkies: Flunky jobs, like receptionists, administrative assistants, and door attendants, are created because those in powerful positions in an organization see underlings as badges of prestige.
    • Goons: Goons are hired due to a dynamic of one-upmanship (if our rivals employ a top corporate lawyer, then so, too, must we). Goons, like lobbyists, telemarketers, and PR specialists exist to fight fellow goons hired by other companies.
    • Duct tapers: Duct tapers are responsible for temporarily fixing problems that could be fixed permanently instead, like programmers who repair shoddy code and airline desk staff who calm passengers whose bags don’t arrive. These positions are created because organizations sometimes find it more difficult to fix a problem than to deal with its consequences.
    • Box tickers: Box tickers create the guise that something useful is being done, when in reality it isn’t. These positions, like survey administrators and corporate compliance officers, exist because many large organizations see paperwork attesting to the fact that certain actions have been taken as more important than the actions themselves.
    • Taskmasters: Taskmasters exist to manage or create more work for workers who don’t need it, like middle management and leadership professionals. They’re basically side effects of various forms of impersonal authority.
  6. 37% of people surveyed said they believed that their job did not make a “meaningful contribution to the world.”
  7. The phenomenon of bullshit employment can provide us with a window on much deeper social problems.
  8. The survey makes two things abundantly clear:
    • More than half of working hours in American offices are spent on bullshit
    • The problem is getting worse
  9. Between 1910 and 2000, “professional, managerial, clerical, sales, and service workers” tripled, growing “from one-quarter to three-quarters of total employment.” In other words, productive jobs have, just as predicted, been largely automated away.
  10. The more the economy becomes a matter of the mere distribution of loot, the more inefficiency and unnecessary chains of command actually make sense, since these are the forms of organization best suited to soaking up as much of that loot as possible.
  11. If 37-40% of jobs are completely pointless, and at least 50% of the work done in non-pointless office jobs is equally pointless, we can probably conclude that at least half of all work being done in society could be eliminated without making any difference at all.
  12. It’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer if jobs like private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs, or legal consultants similarly vanished.
  13. What is “work”? Normally we see it as the opposite of play. Play, in turn, is defined most often as an action one does for their own sake, for pleasure, or just for the sake of doing it. Work, therefore, is activity—typically onerous and repetitive—that one does not carry out for their own sake, but something we engage in only to accomplish something else (to obtain food, for example).
  14. The amount of time office workers have to spend doing their primary job duties decreased from 46% to 39% in 2016.
  15. How are workers supposed to find meaning and purpose in jobs where they are effectively being turned into robots?
  16. In America, stereotypes of the ‘lazy and undeserving poor’ have historically been tied to racism. Generations of immigrants learned what it means to be a “hardworking American” by being taught to despise the imagined indiscipline of the descendents of slaves—just as Japanese workers were taught to disdain Koreans, or English workers, Irish
  17. “Efficiency” has come to mean vesting more and more power to managers, supervisors, and other presumed “efficiency experts,” so that actual producers have almost zero autonomy. At the same time, the ranks and orders of managers seem to reproduce themselves endlessly. Basically, we just keep creating more and more paperwork as time goes on.
  18. Most work can’t be said to “create” anything. Most work is, instead, a matter of maintaining and rearranging times. Consider a coffee cup. We “produce” it once, but we wash it a thousand times. Even work we think of as “productive” like growing potatoes, forging a shovel, or assembling a computer could just as easily be seen as tending, transforming, reshaping, and rearranging materials and elements that already exist.
  19. The paradox of modern work is that most people’s sense of dignity and self-worth is caught up in working for a living, yet most people hate their jobs.
  20. We have invented a bizarre sadomasochistic dialectic whereby we feel that pain in the workplace is the only possible justification for our furtive consumer pleasures. At the same time, our jobs come to eat up more and more of our waking existence so that we do not have the luxury of “a life.” That, in turn, means that furtive consumer pleasures are the only ones we have time to afford.
  21. Work will less and less resemble what we think of as “productive” labor, and more and more resemble “caring” labor. This is mainly because “caring” jobs consist of tasks most of us would not want to see done by a machine.
  22. Our society has reached the point where the social value of work is usually in inverse proportion to its economic value. Meaning that the more one’s work benefits others, the less one is likely to be paid for it. And many people have come to accept this situation as morally right. They genuinely believe this is how things ought to be: That we should reward useless or even destructive behavior, and effectively punish those whose daily labors make the world a better place. This is genuinely perverse.
  23. A potential solution to these problems is Universal Basic Income (UBI). If nothing else, UBI would mean millions of people who recognize the absurdity of this situation will have the time to engage in political organizing to change it, since they will no longer be forced to highlight forms for eight hours a day. Or, if they insist on doing something useful with their lives, scramble around for an equivalent amount of time trying to figure out a fulfilling way to pay the bills.

These are my biggest highlights from “Bullshit Jobs,” and it was a wild read.

Consider the fact that 37-40% of workers in developed countries today feel their jobs are pointless and half the economy is made up of—or supports—bullshit.

Imagine what type of world we could all create if we had the freedom to invest our time, attention, and labor to causes that aren’t bullshit. Imagine how much more innovation and creativity would be cultivated and put out into the world if our self-worth wasn’t tied to workplace productivity and hierarchical titles, but was instead tied to pursuing things we are genuinely passionate about.

Now that we’ve covered all of the most important highlights from “Bullshit Jobs,” you should be ready to ace 1Huddle’s game on the book. Ready to play?

If you don’t already have access, head over to our website to learn more about how you can get started with 1Huddle.

Sam Caucci, Founder & CEO at 1Huddle

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