Friday, 24 August 2018

The Wrong Job: the postwork civilization is a giant fraud

This blog occasionally looks at the issues around 'work':

What's the point of work?
Why Work? | James Livingston
Futures Forum: Why work?

Why not be idle?
BBC Radio 4 - Archive on 4, Embracing Idleness, Idleness: relaxation or subversion?
Futures Forum: In Praise of Idleness: working less could actually be better for everyone.

It's better for us:
The Abolition of Work--Bob Black
'How to Be Idle': Being and Do-Nothingness - The New York Times
Futures Forum: Saint Monday: in defence of skiving

And the Hadza of the Kalihari should know:

Play Makes Us Human V: Why Hunter-Gatherers' Work is Play | Psychology Today
Futures Forum: In Praise of Idleness: "If Hadza nomads get by on 14 hours’ work a week, why can’t we?"
Futures Forum: On the Transition: "Future Primitive"

How about a 'post-capitalist utopia'?
Capitalism Will Abolish Laundry Day - Foundation for Economic Education
Fully Automated Luxury Communism! - YouTube
Futures Forum: The future of work: "Capitalism will abolish laundry day" >>> or: "Fully Automated Luxury Communism"

Or 'money for nothing'?
BBC Radio 4 - In Business, Kenya's Basic Income Experiment
Futures Forum: Universal Basic Income @ Radio 4's In Business

Because the current situation is hell:
Open plan offices 'killing' communication. Should we bring back cubicles? - inews
Futures Forum: Open-plan offices are killing face-to-face communication.

And people are revolting:
Video: the welcome, belated backlash to the open-plan office | FT Alphaville
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: Open-plan offices have been found to reduce productivity and impair memory. They’re associated with high staff turnover. They make people sick, hostile, unmotivated, and insecure.

BBC Radio 4 has a new series on work: 

The Wrong Job

Writer and broadcaster Emma Kennedy studied law and worked as a solicitor for five years before realising she was in the wrong job.

A string of studies have produced worrying evidence that Emma is far from alone - they suggest that as many as 75 per cent of British workers feel they are in jobs which don't suit them or which they simply hate. The figures come as little surprise to psychologist Professor Sir Cary Cooper who says it's no coincidence the UK's productivity rate is one of the lowest in Europe. He says unhappiness in the workplace leads to stress, illness and a £13bn cost to the economy.

In this two-part documentary, Emma discovers what has gone wrong and examines ways to help people find jobs that better fit their skills, aptitudes and aspirations.

BBC Radio 4 - The Wrong Job - Available now

Programme One: 

Square Pegs in Round Holes

The first programme focuses on widespread concerns about non-existent careers advice in schools, inadequate work experience opportunities and an education system which fails to prepare students for a lifetime of work.

Emma begins her journey by visiting psychometric testing experts to find out what job she is really cut out for, and establish what part psychological testing can play in choosing work that suits us. In Emma's case, the conclusion comes as a bit of a shock.

She talks to former Education Secretary Estelle Morris who famously resigned from the post, admitting the job didn't suit her. And she meets 25-year old travel writer Emma Rosen who, after leaving university, found herself in a job she hated, so decided to explore her options by trying 25 different jobs before she was 25, with extraordinary results.

BBC Radio 4 - The Wrong Job, Square Pegs in Round Holes

Programme Two: 

Reinventing the Workplace

In the second part of her investigation into why so many people in Britain hate their jobs, Emma Kennedy looks at ways to rethink the whole concept of work and the workplace. A string of studies have produced worrying evidence that that as many as 75 per cent of British workers feel they are in jobs which don't suit them. One in five employees are actively trying to find other kinds of work.

In last week's programme Emma looked at the extent to which the problem is caused by a lack of career's advice and meaningful work experience as well as the failure of the worlds of education and employment to collaborate effectively. In this programme, she looks at the arguments for more fundamental changes to our whole work environment. And she asks why the UK appears to have one of the unhappiest and least productive workforces in Europe.

Anthropologist David Graeber says part of the problem is that a huge number of people are employed in "bullshit jobs" - meaningless activities which benefit no-one. Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the Royal Society of Arts led a major review of employment practices and says the political emphasis need to switch away from obsession with numbers of jobs to concentrate on quality of jobs. And Frederic Laloux, author of Reinventing Organisations, calls for the creation of "soulful" workplaces in which employees can feel valued and fulfilled.

Emma meets some companies who are trying to do things differently. In Brighton, she discovers how a major health care social enterprise is combining mindfulness and table-tennis to bring out the best in their workforce. And she finds out why global engineering consultants Mott MacDonald are regularly hailed as one of the best employers in the UK.

BBC Radio 4 - The Wrong Job, Reinventing the Workplace

David Graeber has written extensively on the subject: 

Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit

David Graeber The Baffler
No. 19 March 2012

Marxist economist Ernest Mandel as early as 1972... had argued that humanity stood at the verge of a “third technological revolution,” as profound as the Agricultural or Industrial Revolution, in which computers, robots, new energy sources, and new information technologies would replace industrial labor—the “end of work” as it soon came to be called—reducing us all to designers and computer technicians coming up with crazy visions that cybernetic factories would produce.

End of work arguments were popular in the late seventies and early eighties as social thinkers pondered what would happen to the traditional working-class-led popular struggle once the working class no longer existed. (The answer: it would turn into identity politics.)

What happened, instead, is that the spread of information technologies and new ways of organizing transport—the containerization of shipping, for example—allowed those same industrial jobs to be outsourced to East Asia, Latin America, and other countries where the availability of cheap labor allowed manufacturers to employ much less technologically sophisticated production-line techniques than they would have been obliged to employ at home.

From the perspective of those living in Europe, North America, and Japan, the results did seem to be much as predicted. Smokestack industries did disappear; jobs came to be divided between a lower stratum of service workers and an upper stratum sitting in antiseptic bubbles playing with computers. But below it all lay an uneasy awareness that the postwork civilization was a giant fraud. Our carefully engineered high-tech sneakers were not being produced by intelligent cyborgs or self-replicating molecular nanotechnology; they were being made on the equivalent of old-fashioned Singer sewing machines, by the daughters of Mexican and Indonesian farmers who, as the result of WTO or NAFTA–sponsored trade deals, had been ousted from their ancestral lands. It was a guilty awareness that lay beneath the postmodern sensibility and its celebration of the endless play of images and surfaces.

Why did the projected explosion of technological growth everyone was expecting—the moon bases, the robot factories—fail to happen? There are two possibilities. Either our expectations about the pace of technological change were unrealistic (in which case, we need to know why so many intelligent people believed they were not) or our expectations were not unrealistic (in which case, we need to know what happened to derail so many credible ideas and prospects).

... the technologies that did emerge proved most conducive to surveillance, work discipline, and social control. Computers have opened up certain spaces of freedom, as we’re constantly reminded, but instead of leading to the workless utopia Abbie Hoffman imagined, they have been employed in such a way as to produce the opposite effect. They have enabled a financialization of capital that has driven workers desperately into debt, and, at the same time, provided the means by which employers have created “flexible” work regimes that have both destroyed traditional job security and increased working hours for almost everyone. Along with the export of factory jobs, the new work regime has routed the union movement and destroyed any possibility of effective working-class politics.

Meanwhile, despite unprecedented investment in research on medicine and life sciences, we await cures for cancer and the common cold, and the most dramatic medical breakthroughs we have seen have taken the form of drugs such as Prozac, Zoloft, or Ritalin—tailor-made to ensure that the new work demands don’t drive us completely, dysfunctionally crazy.

With results like these, what will the epitaph for neoliberalism look like? I think historians will conclude it was a form of capitalism that systematically prioritized political imperatives over economic ones. Given a choice between a course of action that would make capitalism seem the only possible economic system, and one that would transform capitalism into a viable, long-term economic system, neoliberalism chooses the former every time. There is every reason to believe that destroying job security while increasing working hours does not create a more productive (let alone more innovative or loyal) workforce. Probably, in economic terms, the result is negative—an impression confirmed by lower growth rates in just about all parts of the world in the eighties and nineties.

by David Graeber | STRIKE!
Printed: Issue 3 The Summer Of... August 2013

Given the choice between less hours and more toys and pleasures, we've collectively chosen the latter. This presents a nice morality tale, but even a moment's reflection shows it can't really be true. Yes, we have witnessed the creation of an endless variety of new jobs and industries since the '20s, but very few have anything to do with the production and distribution of sushi, iPhones, or fancy sneakers.

So what are these new jobs, precisely? A recent report comparing employment in the US between 1910 and 2000 gives us a clear picture (and I note, one pretty much exactly echoed in the UK). Over the course of the last century, the number of workers employed as domestic servants, in industry, and in the farm sector has collapsed dramatically. At the same time, ‘professional, managerial, clerical, sales, and service workers’ tripled, growing ‘from one-quarter to three-quarters of total employment.’ In other words, productive jobs have, just as predicted, been largely automated away (even if you count industrial workers globally, including the toiling masses in India and China, such workers are still not nearly so large a percentage of the world population as they used to be.)

But rather than allowing a massive reduction of working hours to free the world's population to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions, and ideas, we have seen the ballooning of not even so much of the ‘service’ sector as of the administrative sector, up to and including the creation of whole new industries like financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors like corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources, and public relations. And these numbers do not even reflect on all those people whose job is to provide administrative, technical, or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza delivery) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones.

These are what I propose to call ‘bullshit jobs’.

STRIKE! Magazine – On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs
David Graeber interview: ‘So many people spend their working lives doing jobs they think are unnecessary’ | Books | The Guardian
Futures Forum: Transitioning to an economy based on sharing information
Futures Forum: The promises of information technology >>> or, spinning fables of info-liberation
Futures Forum: Ten years after the crash > “They had learned nothing and forgotten nothing.” 

And others are not so sure about 'reinventing the workplace': 

Wellbeing is a nice buzzword. But when employers use it, ask why

Emily Reynolds

Poor employee mental health is not treated with the humanity it requires – instead, it’s seen as a risk, or a barrier to profit

‘‘Employee wellbeing programmes’ are now ubiquitous, with workers regularly offered a raft of benefits –such as yoga, gym subscriptions and subsidised fruit for breakfast.’

When Josh Hall, writing for the Baffler, described such programmes as “emblematic of the debasement of so many of our basic human instincts”, he wasn’t being hyperbolic: despite acting as a superficial nod towards genuine mental wellbeing, “wellbeing” as currently used by employers and institutions is functionally useless.

By focusing on mindfulness and yoga, on free fruit and campus walks, universities and workplaces are both ignoring the parts of work that make us sick and devolving responsibility to the mentally ill themselves, excusing themselves from making further investment, material or otherwise. It’s a nice buzzword. But dig deeper and it’s easy to see that we’re simply being sold a lie that genuine wellbeing is within our grasp, if only we try hard enough.

Wellbeing is a nice buzzword. But when employers use it, ask why | Emily Reynolds | Opinion | The Guardian
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: Open-plan offices have been found to reduce productivity and impair memory. They’re associated with high staff turnover. They make people sick, hostile, unmotivated, and insecure.


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