Think Your Job is Pointless? You’re Probably Right.

Man carries briefcase to what may be a pointless job 

In 2015, a YouGov poll found that 37% of Brits were adamant that their job was completely pointless. This is dispiriting given that the UK has the second longest working hours in Europe, second only to the USA. 

That’s a lot of people spending a lot of time feeling like what they are doing is meaningless.

Longer Hours  ≠ Higher Productivity

Even more dispiritingly, these extra hours are not paying off as far as Britain’s GDP is concerned. Despite working on average an extra two and a half weeks per year compared to the European average, Britain’s workers are less productive.

The quote below is taken from the Trades Union Congress report.

Full-time employees in Germany work 1.8 hours a week less than those in the UK but are 14.6% more productive. And in Denmark – the EU country with the shortest hours – workers put in over four hours less than UK workers, but productivity in Denmark is 23.5% higher.

But at least you’re not delusional; if you feel like your job is pointless, you are, at least to a degree, probably right.

a modern set up for what may still be a pointless job

Bullshit Jobs

There is a brilliant book called ‘Bullshit Jobs’ by an excellent personal called David Graeber. You can read a great review of it here by Nathan Heller.

In the book, Graeber points out that it has become the accepted cultural procedure to act as if any person who does not work harder than they want at jobs that they do not particularly like has become unworthy of compassion, love, and approval.  

People sitting around doing probably pointless stuff He goes on to argue that bullshit jobs are usually created to make somebody else look important.

A receptionist is hired on a full-time contract to do essentially three hours worth of work per day, because a ‘real’ publishing agency has to have three levels of command to be taken seriously.

Ditto a broker, who hires a cold caller to give the impression to clients that the broker himself is so busy making money that he needs an underling to make his calls. And so that colleagues in the aggressively hyper-competitive, hyper-masculine, corporate environment can engage in one-upmanship using commodified human servants.

an ironic thumbs up for a pointless zoom call

The Refusal of Work

In another brilliant book, The Refusal of Work by David Frayne, we are led through a fascinating collection of case studies of people who are, as you might expect, refusing work.

Frayne describes the refusal of work as a protest against the repetitiveness, bureaucracy, and hazardous nature of labour within a capitalist system. 

gesturing at his pointless laptop

But Money Though

Of course, we must acknowledge that work does give us money, and money allows us access to boundless consumer goods and loads of cool stuff like banana protectors and Gwyneth Paltrow’s vagina candle. 

However, the corollary of this is that our capacity for true autonomy is diminished until the only thing we are in fact able to do is to choose between consumer goods and capitalised activities that must be paid for.

Frayne writes that becoming familiar with the critiques of the capitalist logics is to receive “an education in desire”.

A way to begin unlearning what we have been taught to want (stuff, things, disposable goods, an identity based on our work), and to start learning what we actually prefer (connection, contribution to something greater than ourselves, peace). 

connection doesn't feel as pointless as most jobs

GDP Is Not Very Useful

In 2009, French prime minister Nicolas Sarkosy publicly advocated a shift away from GDP as the ultimate metric of a developed nations success, and instead supported the notion of a measure of well-being as a more appropriate and worthwhile benchmark.

Ten years later New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern implemented the Happiness Index Metric in lieu of using just GDP to track the development of the country. I reckon Jacinda probably isn’t a big fan of bullshit jobs either.

These developments point in a good direction for those of us concerned with the meaninglessness of so many of our jobs. Paying attention to things that the impact the quality of our lives outside of the combined price of goods and services is both sane and long overdue.

love is not pointless

An Education in Desire

We may well ask what is the point in critiquing working practices, and the extend to which the prerogative to work and consume dominates our every waking moment, when a vast majority of us, regardless of our perspectives and politics of work, are obliged to perform it anyway. 

 I invite you to consider this as a small part of our collective education in desire. 

Your job may be pointless. You may, on aggregate, be less productive than your Danish counterparts. And you may live in a country that still fetishises GDP as the ultimate measure of human flourishing, even though Simon Kuznets, the Nobel Prize winning economist who invented GDP said himself that “The welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income.”

But you may also be reading this in the office, or whilst working from home.

Stick it to the man.