Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Bullshit Jobs - Why Worker Coops are More Productive

David Graeber, the fascinating anarchist anthropologist, has described nearly 75% of jobs as 'Bullshit jobs'.   Jobs which create no value, no use and in an ideal world, wouldn't be allowed to exist. It's the 75% which is astonishing.

In a world where we are told that capitalist businesses efficiently compete with each other, cost cutting and price dropping to out compete each other, he says on the contrary, they are creating tens of millions of pointless jobs.  And the people who do them know that, because he asked them. He set up a gmail address and asked people to tell him if their job was, in their opinion, a pointless job. they did in their thousands.  Of course people do these jobs for the money but at what cost to their mental well being?  Psychologists say that for work to be engaging the worker has to have a sense of  Purpose.  Otherwise stress and depression follow. Its in the HSE management standards for work related stress as a primary cause.

Of course keeping people occupied in pointless labour stops them questioning the order of things but this isnt a Tory conspiracy as such, though some of it clearly is - drive people into work, any work at any price, even work that has to be topped up in benefits to make it survivable, is clearly what drives Ian Duncan Smith.

Graeber classified these bullshit jobs into 5 categories, all of which are a consequence of hierarchy.

Flunkies - make someone else look good, or increase their status or salary. Receptionists often no longer do any necessary work (with computerised ICT) but are deemed essential for the look of the office.   There are many other workers whose primary reason for employment is to increase the number of subordinates and thereby increase the status and salary of higher managers. 'Post' inflation (number of posts) is a recognised disease in all corporate organisations. Most of these jobs just pass information around.

Goons - are jobs only required because other people have them. Armies fall into this. Also corporate lawyers and most accountants. The arms race in marketing means that most marketing jobs are also Goon jobs.  If you don't have enough marketeers, the opposition may steal the business.

Duct Tapers - patch things up because they are broken and there is no desire to fix them.  Most HR falls into this group. If organisations really treated their workers properly then most HR would not be needed, HR as 'sweeping up' after managers have caused conflict due to uncaring behaviours.
Lots of examples of Duct Tapers just keeping broken systems going, eg IT as well as physical stuff and all sorts of broken production and administration processes.

Box Tickers - record things for higher ups because higher ups are separated from actual operations. Unnecessary reporting is endemic. Often box ticking takes up the time that could be spent doing the job properly in the first case!!  Huge elements of HR, quality control, Health and Safety, operational management and strategic management are unnecessary box ticking.  Avoiding doing the job, eg helping people work better, and more safely and effectively, but generating paperwork instead. Many strategy workers spend their entire careers knowing nothing they do will ever be enacted.
As the old farmer said 'The pig don't get any fatter by weighing it.'

Task Masters - middle managers who supervise people who dont need supervising and create new bullshit jobs to increase their own status (and that of their superiors).  e.g. a bank manager who was tasked with cutting costs and jobs but not one suggestion was enacted because that would mean a boss losing flunkies.

Worker Coops should have no Flunkies, no internally facing Goons, no Duct Tapers and no Task Masters but I've seen lots of Box Tickers!
No matter, worker coops should inherently be more productive compared to normal hierarchical organisations. If not what are you doing wrong? Why not ask Bob?

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