Imagine that every one of us, irrespective of our personal situation or occupation, receives an income which enables us to maintain a modest standard of living.
Would you continue to do your job? And if so, for what reasons? Because it gives you satisfaction, or because of the contact with co-workers? Because it allows you to make a meaningful contribution to society? Would you still spend as much time on your job? Would you stop performing certain tasks? This utopian reflection confronts us with the place our job occupies in our lives.
David Graeber and his Bullshit Jobs
Our way of looking at (paid) work has been reflected upon by philosophers for centuries. David Graeber’s book Bullshit Jobs is a 21st-century analysis of the value of work in our present-day society.
In HR circles, the conviction is that employees attach ever greater importance to meaningful jobs. However, Graeber concludes that, due to a complex combination of intrinsic and extrinsic factors, a considerable (and growing) part of employees continues to perform jobs which they experience as completely meaningless, which is of course detrimental to their job satisfaction.
Among these employees are highly qualified knowledge workers who fail to implement structural solutions to problems due to corporate policy or for personal reasons. Another group consists of specialised technicians who need to be available for emergencies, but rarely have anything useful to do the rest of time. And then there are employees who are principally engaged in registering and reporting, but do not have the feeling that their work has any practical application.
Not very meaningful? Have the courage to admit it …
Paid work is a fetish in our economy. Those who do not work are “lazy” or “incompetent”. That is why employees often find it difficult to admit (to themselves, their employer and/or the outside world) that their job is not very meaningful or challenging. In addition, Graeber remarks that people who end up in such a situation often earn more than those who carry out indispensable task, such as garbage collectors, cleaners and night nurses. It seems as if the meaningfulness of those jobs is part of the remuneration package.
Those with a so-called bullshit job are often aware of how burdensome this working situation is. The mantra of efficiency, productivity and success which dominates our economy weighs on those who fear they do not meet these criteria. Moreover, it appears to be difficult to break the deadlock or to create a liveable situation, e.g. by allowing yourself more inspiring activities when you have little to do at work. This inevitably feels like a transgression.
… and change course
Are frustration, boredom or dissatisfaction regularly part of your job reality? Your career coach can help you change course. He or she will ask the right questions so that you gain greater insight into your capacities and in the conditions for a healthy dose of job satisfaction. This enables you to make smart decisions with a view to a (more) meaningful career.
Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber (2018) is an eye-opening analysis of the reality that numerous employees experience the work they perform as pointless and meaningless. it is highly recommended for those who are not afraid of controversial ideas.
Are we about to fall into the other extreme? Employers are increasingly complaining about the unrealistic expectations of applicants in terms of the meaningfulness of their future job. It is probably not a healthy ambition to remain convinced of the value created by all aspects of your work in every stage of your career and every day of your working life. Perhaps it is sometimes nice to keep in mind that your job is “just” a job. Without a doubt, it constitutes a substantial part of who you are or aspire to be, but your identity is also determined by other aspect of your life.