The Rise of Bullshit Jobs

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Clarice
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The Rise of Bullshit Jobs

Post by Clarice » Sun Jul 01, 2018 7:37 pm

The article below discusses the tremendous amount of bullshit jobs in the modern economy. The author mentioned in the article does a great job of providing a thorough taxonomy of bullshit jobs and distinguishing them from shit jobs. I would guess that some people on this forum first thought of FIRE in an attempt to escape a meaningless job. I am definitely not a stranger to these thoughts. Working in a healthcare I estimate that the ratio of real jobs to bullshit jobs is 1:4. I also had a chance to observe in the past proliferation of bullshit jobs in education. What are your thoughts on this topic?

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2018/06/bull ... rk-service

IlliniDave
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Re: The Rise of Bullshit Jobs

Post by IlliniDave » Sun Jul 01, 2018 8:04 pm

Yeah, there's a lot of that though I can't speak to how much has changed over time. Maybe there's been change in function if not numbers. People like to cite Pareto's law adapted to indicate the bulk of the work is done by a minority of the people in an enterprise (forget who's law or whatever that is). Maybe administrative bloat is an attempt to get those poele into positions where they do the least harm.

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TheRedHare
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Re: The Rise of Bullshit Jobs

Post by TheRedHare » Mon Jul 02, 2018 10:17 am

It's probably all due to a combination of technology replacing jobs (or at least allowing 1 person to do what 10 people used to do 60 years ago), and the raise in population.

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Hobbes
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Re: The Rise of Bullshit Jobs

Post by Hobbes » Mon Jul 02, 2018 8:48 pm

I wonder what the economic reason would be for an organization to have such jobs would be? If these jobs don't contribute anything of value, why pay to have the work done?

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BlueNote
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Re: The Rise of Bullshit Jobs

Post by BlueNote » Mon Jul 02, 2018 9:07 pm

Yeah lot's of BS jobs in the business world. Accounting is rife with BS jobs that only exist to serve convoluted and in many cases unnecessary rules. I can't stand slacking off for too long. My company would probably let me work 20% of the time if I wanted but I get bored and go looking for something to do. I can usually automate out a lot of the work when I take over a new position. I am always surprised at how little the office managers care about efficiency and reducing headcount. End of the day if you reduce your head count you will be expected to perform the same or more work with those resources and you will have made the other managers look bad. You won't get the incremental savings as a bonus either, most office managers are bonused based on total company performance (a few heads are just drops in the ocean for a big company) and/or some irrelevant performance metrics that are graded on the personal whims of their managers. Also nobody will trust you as a manager , seeing you as a head cutter, and that will affect your ability get good performance from subordinates. That's why it's smart to bring in outside consultants to isolate the inefficient workers and then bring in more consultants to lay those workers off (often en masse) and then blame "upper management" and the consultants for the whole thing , "my hands are tied" etc. I could probably write a decent short/medium story on this stuff based on personal experience.

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TheRedHare
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Re: The Rise of Bullshit Jobs

Post by TheRedHare » Tue Jul 03, 2018 8:33 am

BlueNote wrote:
Mon Jul 02, 2018 9:07 pm
I could probably write a decent short/medium story on this stuff based on personal experience.
I'd be interested in reading this if you ever decided to do it.

Noal
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Re: The Rise of Bullshit Jobs

Post by Noal » Tue Jul 03, 2018 9:51 am

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2018/ ... ntless-job

From the same author.

The examples are amusing. Below seems a good avoidance tactic.


“I was hired as a temp but not assigned any duties. I was told it was very important that I stay busy, but I wasn’t to play games or surf the web. My primary function seemed to be occupying a chair and contributing to the decorum of the office. At first, this seemed pretty easy, but I quickly discovered that looking busy when you aren’t is one of the least pleasant office activities imaginable. In fact, after two days, it was clear that this was going to be the worst job I had ever had. I installed Lynx, a text-only web browser that basically looks like a DOS [disk-operating system] window. No images, just monospaced text on an endless black background. My absentminded browsing of the internet now appeared to be the work of a skilled technician, the web browser a terminal into which diligently typed commands signalled my endless productivity.”

Mister Imperceptible
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Re: The Rise of Bullshit Jobs

Post by Mister Imperceptible » Tue Jul 03, 2018 8:29 pm

BlueNote wrote:
Mon Jul 02, 2018 9:07 pm
I could probably write a decent short/medium story on this stuff based on personal experience.
Please play at being Kafka. We want the story.

ZAFCorrection
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Re: The Rise of Bullshit Jobs

Post by ZAFCorrection » Tue Jul 03, 2018 8:58 pm

It's an interesting phenomenon that probably is significantly responsible for cost disease in a lot of areas. One thing that sticks out to me about it as it goes some way toward discrediting the "run government like a business" meme. One of the conclusions from all the anecdata is businesses, particularly large ones, are run with about equal incompetence. It seems that it would be more useful to discuss the problem of government inefficiency as a cultural problem rather than being native to a particular type of institution.

Clarice
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Re: The Rise of Bullshit Jobs

Post by Clarice » Wed Jul 04, 2018 7:57 am

Hobbes wrote:
Mon Jul 02, 2018 8:48 pm
I wonder what the economic reason would be for an organization to have such jobs would be? If these jobs don't contribute anything of value, why pay to have the work done?
@Hobbes:
Ha-ha! I feel compelled to go ahead and try to disabuse you from the notion that "these jobs don't contribute anything of value". :twisted: I can speak for healthcare only. In healthcare, these jobs are conduits, through which taxpayers' money funneled via Medicare to people performing unnecessary chemo therapies, unnecessary surgeries such as gastric tube insertions, and unnecessary physical therapy sessions. You can have a nursing assistant help a person to make it to the bathroom - net expense to a nursing home. Or... you can have a certified and board-licensed physical therapist (entry level to the profession - doctor of physical therapy) to do the same and charge Medicare for doing so. In healthcare, the remedy of choice is always the most profitable to the institution providing it. :idea:

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Re: The Rise of Bullshit Jobs

Post by jacob » Wed Jul 04, 2018 8:20 am

One might make the argument that apparent local inefficiency is the price of global complex effectiveness. Consider the human brain. It's about 2% of the human body mass but it uses 20% of the energy. Clearly there are a lot of bullshit neurons being employed (within the thinking system that is the human brain) all around since few of us are Mozart or Einstein.

But having big brains allows us to find and eat food from everywhere. If evolution had drifted more in the direction of building a bigger digestive system (the human system takes another 20-30% ... that leaves about 50% for the breathing/muscles/...), we would probably have gone in the direction of cows and been the ones serving as burgers.

Same with large organizations. There's a lot of inefficiency at the local level. However, there's also complexity in a large organization that does not and can not exist in a small organization. This complexity allows the large organization to do things the small organization can not do. E.g. only a nation state or something the size of a nation state (e.g. the Catholic Church or Exxon Mobil) is capable of raising and running a modern army ... whereas if you leave it to a lot of "small independent business owners and farmers", you'll end up with a militia armed with nothing more than rifles and armored technicals.

So "conduit" is probably the right word ... like neurons in the brain. It's somehow profitable the "brain" insofar the brain/organization is doing complex tasks. Insofar it does not, it's a waste.

During my most frustrated days in grad school, I wondered what the point of all my effort was? Was it
  1. Research arcane details about neutron stars and publish them in journals only 5 people would read?
  2. Serve as cheap labor e.g. TA'ing clueless undergraduates who would eventually graduate and go do important stuff like shuffling papers in a bank?
  3. Provide a warm body to preserve the culture of academia as an institution?
The older I get, the more and more, I think it was (3). This also explains all the mostly useless exercises such as going to multiple conferences about the same thing every year (even if there's now skype and email); attending mandatory seminars and colloquiums (even if the printing press could just print out some flyers); ... and so on.

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Re: The Rise of Bullshit Jobs

Post by Jason » Wed Jul 04, 2018 8:49 am

If you work from the premise that a country is merely an idea with a standing army to defend it, it seems to apply to all institutions. Sheer numbers imply (1) validity and (2) sense of safety. It has nothing to do with efficiency.

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Riggerjack
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Re: The Rise of Bullshit Jobs

Post by Riggerjack » Wed Jul 04, 2018 9:09 am

@ Jacob, yes... And.

All the emergent features of the larger, more complex organizations are as you describe, and from the local perspective, the jobs shouldn't exist, as described above.

But, the communications improvement in the last few decades has made for wider, flatter hierarchies, and these bullshit jobs are less necessary than in the past.

But managers are babysitters for adults. Their purpose is to keep track to ensure their people show up, and kind of do something like what they were hired for. Middle management of large organizations has no interest in efficiency gains or innovation. They are interested in a way to consistently beat the metrics their bonus is based on.

The outside team bluenote describes is necessary, simply because the mindset of middle management is diametrically opposed to the structural changes the outside team recommends.

From the local perspective, this looks like jobs are getting bullshittier, then getting swept away in a management coup.

But I think what is happening is as hierarchies flatten, some jobs get less and less necessary, or more bullshitty. But clearing out the deadwood is the part of the job management will avoid when possible.

So the increase in proliferation of bullshit jobs seen locally is a function of those jobs disappearing.

Or, maybe I'm wrong.

ffj
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Re: The Rise of Bullshit Jobs

Post by ffj » Wed Jul 04, 2018 9:26 am

It seems like this occurs more often in white collar work. Unless a union is involved, blue-collar work involves working for the time paid.

prognastat
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Re: The Rise of Bullshit Jobs

Post by prognastat » Wed Jul 04, 2018 9:58 am

I think a part of this might be that as efficiency through technology increases less time is needed to complete these jobs and despite the fact that you could get the job done in less time employers still look down on people not showing they have "drive" and being present 45+ hours a week.

When you combine these two factors the only solution is for a larger % of your job to become bullshit like sitting in lots of meetings and dealing with more bureaucracy.

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BlueNote
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Re: The Rise of Bullshit Jobs

Post by BlueNote » Wed Jul 04, 2018 7:59 pm

@Jacob & @RiggerJack those are good points.

In the case of the most complex governments they can build and maintain a nuclear arsenal that will basically protect them indefinitely, assuming MAD holds. Their old style armed forces are just there to police their spheres of influence, provide jobs, get political votes etc. However I have heard, anecdotally, that the military is chock full of inefficiency, unnecessary bureaucracy, corruption and BS jobs up the wazoo.

In the case of my employer they're an American company trading on the NYSE. This requires a governance team that will ensure the executives stay out of jail, the owners get all their required reports and the stock stays listed on the exchange. Nobody wants to poke the corporate governance bear these days (SOX , whistle blower paydays etc.). A privatization would render almost all of our jobs unnecessary and they'd likely package me and 95% of my team out if that happened. The upshot is that the stock market valuations are at such high levels that I don't think anyone is thinking much about buying out publicly traded companies right now.

@ TheRedHare & @Mister Imperceptible

Seriously?!?! I'll read some Kafka and think about it.

Clarice
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Re: The Rise of Bullshit Jobs

Post by Clarice » Thu Jul 05, 2018 12:08 am

jacob wrote:
Wed Jul 04, 2018 8:20 am

So "conduit" is probably the right word ... like neurons in the brain. It's somehow profitable the "brain" insofar the brain/organization is doing complex tasks. Insofar it does not, it's a waste.

During my most frustrated days in grad school, I wondered what the point of all my effort was? Was it
  1. Research arcane details about neutron stars and publish them in journals only 5 people would read?
  2. Serve as cheap labor e.g. TA'ing clueless undergraduates who would eventually graduate and go do important stuff like shuffling papers in a bank?
  3. Provide a warm body to preserve the culture of academia as an institution?
@Jacob:

What do you mean by "neurons in the brain"? Neurons in the brain is not a scam. Sewing a suit for Kejserens nye klæder is. In addition, it's also exhausting, humiliating, and making ERE a very appealing alternative. :D :twisted: :lol: Out of 5 people you've mentioned how many would pay their own money to read your articles? Out of the students you've taught how many would pay for the knowledge if it was offered separately, and not as a part of a bulk purchase of bachelor degree? Of course your were a warm body! You were also a fish meal for the sharks of higher education. I am currently serving the same function in healthcare. :cry:

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Re: The Rise of Bullshit Jobs

Post by shade-tree » Tue Jul 10, 2018 1:28 pm

Thanks @wolf for alerting me to this thread. I posted in my recent ERE journal about how I'd just read David Graeber's BOOK bullshit jobs which is an entertaining, deeper dive into the topics introduced in his essay.
Graeber identifies some categories of bullshit jobs such as importance inflation-- making an executive look important by having an assistant. (and that assistant might not actually have any actual job duties.) Duct-tapers are another categoryso, for example, when a company uses low cost or free software that doesn't exactly meet its operational needs and hires some people to do redundant data input or workarounds to compensate. I can't exactly remember the others categories right now. sorry.
One cause of bullshit jobs is capitalist society seems is stuck in the notion that the purpose of existence is for producing things, when really most of the labor goes toward caring for people and things. And this misconception about production being the most important creates a situation where everyone SHOULD be producing, but there's not enough of that to do, so bullshit jobs are made.
The book has some great anecdotes about real-life jobs, so @BlueNote, I'd buy your short story or at least check it out from the library.

Clarice
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Re: The Rise of Bullshit Jobs

Post by Clarice » Thu Jul 12, 2018 6:41 pm

This topic apparently resonates with more people that I've thought it would. I have the proof: I am #4 in line to get this book in my local library. :ugeek:

Augustus
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Re: The Rise of Bullshit Jobs

Post by Augustus » Thu Jul 12, 2018 11:33 pm

Bull shit jobs are more prevalent in large corporations. In small companies, unless you're bringing in a shit ton of profit, every dollar counts, and it's easy for an owner to spot dead weight when they directly manage each employee.

The problem I had when managing my employees was keeping quality high, no one gives a shit about the things you own like you do. Now add 2 layers of management. Now no one gives a shit at all. Some middle manager is working on shit completely disconnected from earning money and keeping the company afloat, he doesn't give a shit about the bottom line, he just wants his salary and to promote the status quo and preside over his little fiefdom.

Then factor in things like top talent doesn't stick around, they're worth a lot of money and they know it. 33% of the population is below average, 33% is average, and 33% actually don't suck. You have to hire a lot of people in a large corp, chances are 66% are mediocre at best, it's very hard to keep quality high.

Add all that together, and bull shit is everywhere.

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