Business leaders wanted easily managed employees who would be grateful to be employed
, and that’s what they got. Now they are surprised that most employees are just going through the motions and doing the bare minimum to keep that job. Most fly below the radar, keep their ideas to themselves and use clothes, money, sex, reality TV and other diversions to fill the void that results from spending most of their time building someone else’s dream.
Philadelphia, June 1, 2014
New York Times
Sunday Review | LETTERS
Attitudes About Work
When I talk about bullshit jobs,
I mean, the kind of jobs that even those who work them feel do not really need to exist. A lot of them are made-up middle management, you know, I’m the “East Coast strategic vision coordinator” for some big firm, which basically means you spend all your time at meetings or forming teams that then send reports to one another. Or someone who works in an industry that they feel doesn’t need to exist, like most of the corporate lawyers I know, or telemarketers, or lobbyists…. Just think of when you walk into a hospital, how half the employees never seem to do anything for sick people, but are just filling out insurance forms and sending information to each other. Some of that work obviously does need to be done, but for the most part, everyone working there knows what really needs to get done and that the remaining 90 percent of what they do is bullshit
. And then think about the ancillary workers that support people doing the bullshit jobs: here’s an office where people basically translate German formatted paperwork into British formatted paperwork or some such, and there has to be a whole infrastructure of receptionists, janitors, security guards, computer maintenance people, which are kind of second-order bullshit jobs
, they’re actually doing something, but they’re doing it to support people who are doing nothing.
When I published the piece, there was a huge outpouring of confessionals from people in meaningless positions
in private corporations or public service of one sort or another. The interesting thing was there was almost no difference between what they reported in the public, and in the private sector. Here’s one guy whose only duty is to maintain a spreadsheet showing when certain technical publications were out of date and send emails to the authors to remind them it needed updating. Somehow he had to turn this into an eight-hour-a-day job. Another one who had to survey policies and procedures inside the corporation and write vision statements describing alternative ways they might do them, reports that just got passed around to give other people in similar jobs a chance to go to meetings and coordinate data to write further reports, none of which were ever implemented. Another person whose job was to create ads and conduct interviews for positions in a firm that were invariably filled by internal promotion anyway.
SUNDAY, JUN 1, 2014 04:00 AM PDT
David Graeber: “Spotlight on the financial sector did make apparent just how bizarrely skewed our economy is in terms of who gets rewarded”
Try following a high school student around for a full day, he urged, in case you’ve forgotten what it’s like to change subjects abruptly every hour, to be talked at incessantly, to be asked to sit still for long periods, to be endlessly tested and measured against others, to be moved around in cohorts by people who really do not know who you are, to be denied any civility like a coffee break and asked to eat lunch in twenty-three minutes, to be rarely trusted, and to repeat the same regimen with virtually no variation for week after week, year after year.
Now compare that perspective to those of experts whose first, and often only, question about the status quo is: How do we get kids to put up with it?
For Duckworth, the challenge is how to make students pay “attention to a teacher rather than daydreaming,” persist “on long-term assignments despite boredom and frustration,” choose “homework over TV,” and “behav[e] properly in class”?
In her more recent research, she created a task that is deliberately boring
, the point being to come up with strategies that will lead students to resist the temptation to do something more interesting instead. Again, cui bono?
Given these priorities, it makes perfect sense that Duckworth would turn to grades as evidence that grit is beneficial—not only because she assumes grades offer an accurate summary of learning but because “grades can motivate students to comply with teacher directives.” They are, in other words, useful as rewards or threats. Are the teacher’s directives reasonable or constructive? Same answer as to the question of whether the homework assignments are worth doing: It doesn’t matter. The point is to produce obedience—ideally, habitual obedience
. This is the mindset that underlies all the enthusiasm about grit and self-discipline, evemn if it's rarely spelled out.
The Downside of "Grit"
By Alfie Kohn
April 6, 2014