Life & Style

On shedding the flab at the workforce

A stressful workplace | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

A stressful workplace | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement   | Photo Credit: tech


Inspired by a book by David Graeber, we’ll analyse the work environment in terms of the workforce

In last week’s column, we navel-gazed a bit into a rosy future where no resources are scarce, and people will have to work much lesser, if at all, to make a living, and thus have a lot more leisure. We theorised that there will thus be an economy that exists to enable such leisure time being spent right. The column prompted a comment from a friend, who pointed out that the concept of work, or a job, is not going to go anywhere, because human minds can neither be idle, nor can they deal with the lack of routine. So even if the work that they are doing has no contribution to the economy, such work will still be commonplace and employ a majority of the population.

That there are already a lot of such jobs in the current economy has been the subject of a recent bestseller — Bullshit Jobs: A Theory by the anthropologist David Graeber. In the book, Graeber posits that more than half the jobs that exist today are pointless, and that such jobs cause a lot of psychological and societal harm. Predictably, it ruffled quite a few feathers, especially of those whose jobs got categorised as such by Graeber’s broad brush, and there were some who snarkily suggested that being an anthropologist itself was such a job in the first place.

David Graeber says that there are five kinds of pointless jobs. First come the flunkies, people whose jobs exist primarily to make others feel important. Next come the goons, who are like flunkies, but act aggressively on behalf of others in order to emphasise the importance of the others’ jobs. Next come the duct tapers, whose job is to fix problems that ideally should not have been there in the first place. And next we have the box tickers, whose jobs are to do primarily with coordination, and checking items off a checklist. Finally, there are the taskmasters, a category under which most management gets lumped under, because they do not do any of the actual work but only get others to do work for them.

While I have some fundamental philosophical problems with many of the points that Graeber makes (I have not read the book, but have read the original essay from a few years ago that he expanded into this book — which in turn begs the question, was writing this book a useless exercise too?), he does provide a useful heuristic that entrepreneurs can use to check if their startup is growing the right way or not.

Large companies can afford the bloat of flunkies, goons, duct tapers, box tickers, and taskmasters, and in fact in most cases, they are a necessity too, and are part of the cost of doing business for those large companies.

But for startups who are always operating under various resource constraints, if there is anyone doing these kind of jobs, that is definitely flab that they cannot afford, and they will have to fix one of people, process, or technology, to quickly get rid of the bull.

The author heads product at a mid-sized startup in the real estate space

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Printable version | Dec 14, 2019 7:28:37 AM |

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