The World of ‘B#llsh!t Jobs’: Does Your Work Still Have Value?

Let me ask you a very honest question and reply with a short, straightforward, honest answer.

What do you do for a living?

It sounds like a very easy question to answer, right? Not quite. I am not asking about job titles or all the things you do every day. What I am trying to know is what you actually do, what you create, improve, or contribute to everyone.

You may be a bank manager, a telemarketer, or a human resources officer, the answers would be different from person to person. The thing is, you can’t condense your answer into one simple sentence that best captures the essence of what you really do for a living.

The Great Job Shift

The world of work has changed a lot in the past century as four in five people now work in the service industry, which was far cry from the past when only one in four do so. When you think of service jobs, we tend to see a barista serving our favorite cafe latte, salespeople helping us find the right size for our shoes or the ever-helpful hotel staff that attends to our needs.

In today’s world, these are pretty ordinary jobs most people do yet it can be an unnecessary luxury for people using these services in the past. Nevertheless, it is obvious that they do produce great value in the form of a refreshing drink, a new fashionable kick, or a spic and span hotel room. Without these jobs, life would have been different.

However, the service sector is more than just these people alone. It is far broader than the term implies as it also includes a diverse range of professions from call center agents to chief executive officers. Yes, CEOs.

The fact of the matter is that jobs outside the service sector that require special certifications can be difficult to come by. However, there is a subsequent rise in so-called ‘b#llsh!t jobs’ along with the growth in the self-service sector.

The Rise of ‘B#llsh!t Jobs’

It’s really interesting and somewhat odd that our free-market capitalism that favors efficiency and automation should have removed these outdated and inefficient jobs by now. In the real world, people get fired for not adding value or contributing valuable at all while companies have to cut down on unnecessary expenses on ‘useless’ job roles, right?

Well, not necessarily.

There is a certain quirk to the modern capitalist system why there are certain job roles that have been in place to perpetuate the existence of people who work absolutely nothing but justify their own existence. When an organization grows, the bureaucracy becomes more complicated, creating new jobs. These new jobs specialize in certain things. Yet as processes become streamlined in an assembly-line format some of these specialist jobs end up becoming ‘useless’ as advanced processes and automation cut them off completely.

The Unlikely Origin?

One of the unlikeliest places where it all began can be attributed to the rise of the Soviet Union. The polar opposite of capitalism, communism was built on the idea of the noble labor of the proletariat. The state promotes the idea that work is honorable and dignified. In fact, the term “soviet” loosely translates to a ‘workers council’ and people took pride in the work they do.

That would work well in their own ideal workers’ utopia but serious problems arise in the real world when there’s not much work for everyone while a privileged few, like Stalin and his henchmen, enjoy the fruits of their labor. Ordinary Soviet citizens are treated like worker ants and were sent to collective farms and far-flung labor camps across the whole breadth of the Soviet Union. Dissidents end up in gulags from Kengir to Vorkuta.

Soviet apparatchiks are constantly under pressure to keep up with full employment numbers as part of the propaganda narrative against the West during the height of the Cold War. As a result, the corrupt bureaucracy favors making up numbers and many officials end up covering up the real state of the labor market and conditions of collective farms and factories throughout the country.

The economy was in turmoil as the country is producing more tractors and military hardware than consumer goods and when the market dried up, a lot of people have nothing else to do so some redundant tasks are given to keep the employment numbers afloat. Some factory managers even hired more people to do manual labor even if the same job can be done by one machine or equipment. It reached a point where there was ‘worker hoarding’ when some people are given meaningless and dead-end jobs from counting grain to tightening nuts and bolts in factory equipment. These jobs keep people busy and prevent further dissent.

We may not be living under Stalin’s regime but we see the legacy in today’s corporate landscape.

Types of ‘B#llsh!t Jobs’

Prominent anthropologist David Graeber, in his renowned work “Bull Jobs,” categorized these jobs into five broad categories:

1. The Flunkies

These jobs exist because they are intended to make other people feel better about themselves. Think of the people working as doormen, receptionists, chauffeurs, and personal assistants. If you come to think of it, some of these jobs can be replaced with technology as if they’re really needed at all.

2. The Duct Tapers

Have you seen plumbers trying to plug in the hole of a leaky pipe? Well, there are jobs where people just work to alleviate problems that repeatedly occur yet can easily be fixed for good. Yet there are those who do it anyway. Think about an inventory manager who keeps up with the supply and demand of goods when it is now possible to do the same job automatically and efficiently through software that utilizes artificial intelligence and machine learning.

One may say, why do companies still keep these duct tapers around? The solution is not necessarily getting rid of them. Why? They would be able to create value more effectively if a needless obstacle is removed from the process.

3. The Box Tickers

These box tickers can be best described as a group of drones in the big corporate environment as they make these organizations look legitimate by their existence. Think about those who make internal corporate newsletters about the CEO that nobody reads or the corporate spokesperson who reports about the awesome things the company is doing. The point is that having this unnecessary entourage is creating the impression that the company is big-time and worth doing business with or working for.

4. The Goons

They can be seen as the despicable people everyone loves to hate – the goons. This job class creates a negative impact on everyone and society as a whole. They make themselves a necessity by simply existing.

Big companies have a lot of men in designer suits driving fancy business cars. These are the type some people aspire to yet do not fully understand the things they do. Take the case of internal corporate lawyers who don’t really produce anything tangible. Yet, they exist even if it will cost companies a lot more if they hire third-party lawyers to defend them in lawsuits and other legal battles. These people set the rules and protocols on behalf of the company and enforce them on you.

These companies are willing to fight dirty to get what they want so they hire lobbyists to protect their interests. They are the ones who fight for their corporate masters to simply change the rules of the game.

5. The Task Masters

If you think that the goons are despicable then they have nothing on the worst of the bunch – the taskmasters. These are the type of people who look over every single thing you do even though it doesn’t have to be that way. If there are effective management strategies in place then coordinating team members would be much easier. Having someone who controls a group of people with exactly the same job description is a little bit different. They’re a sore thumb in the whole team structure as they get to boss around and often, paid better than you do.

They often create more distractions and dissents as they justify their magnificent role in their meetings while discussing grand strategies that absolutely do nothing. Instead, it ends up pulling out valuable time, effort, and resources away from the job that actually has a chance of doing something more productive.

Middle managers often serve as cosmetic embellishments for higher bosses in a bureaucratic corporate hierarchy so that the latter can feel good at being on top of the food chain.

How Did We Get Here?

These jobs were created at the height of the Cold War when the Soviet Union was built from the ground up in an attempt to build a workers' utopia where everyone has a job and is proud of the work they do.

Yes, the West has won and the capitalist system should be the obviously better economic model, right? Well, not exactly. It has become a bloated bureaucracy that eventually followed the mistakes of the failed communist regime.

There are companies who did well though as they cut down meaningless and useless roles and tasks by aligning their goals and objectives with the actual decision-makers. Oftentimes, things will go wrong.

Many middle managers end up hoarding staff to make themselves look all-important just like how Soviet factory workers did in the past. Most executives tend to flex their overstretched accomplishments on LinkedIn pages just like how propaganda was spread over the Pravda in the past.

As much as the Soviet Union was obsessed with having people work all the time even on meaningless jobs and impossible tasks, we are facing the same thing in our modern workspaces as we’re required to work overtime even on holidays while expecting the same compensation or often big pay cuts Often, work-life balance is thrown out of the skyscraper window.

The global market is not entirely free as there are a lot of laws that regulate everything and the by-product of all these things is the bureaucracy that slows down every activity. I’m not saying that this is bad for everyone, there are policies that are important and necessary. Yet big companies take advantage of the whole system for their benefit that’s why we have lobbyists and corporate lawyers with some wanting to make the world a better place while some making rich executives and oligarchs even richer than ever.

This has led to the creation of legislation that made it such that running a successful business would necessitate the creation of ‘b#llsh!t jobs’ like a team of accountants and lawyers to help them navigate the bureaucracy and skirt the laws designed to protect the people.

What’s the Solution?

Will you embrace the idea of cutting down on work hours because the work is ‘b#llsh!t’?

The thing is that every single job has a level of ‘b#llsh!t’ woven into the daily duties because if all jobs were easy then we won’t be doing anything productive at all. If you’re really overwhelmed with a lot of these types of tasks then you may want to keep with it for now or perhaps try to get a side hustle when you’re off.

Sometimes the most boring and dead-end jobs can be better than the dream jobs you always wanted. When that dream wears off then you end up falling to the ‘b#llsh!t jobs’ you dread. Otherwise, you will end up with a great majority of people resigning and moving towards a slow-paced lifestyle. 

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