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On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs Strike! Magazine

On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber.

In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century’s end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Great Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour work week. There’s every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen. Instead, technology has been marshaled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.

Why did Keynes’ promised utopia – still being eagerly awaited in the ‘60s – never materialise? The standard line today is that he didn’t figure in the massive increase in consumerism. 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 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 deliverymen) 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.”

It’s as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs just for the sake of keeping us all working. And here, precisely, lies the mystery. In capitalism, this is precisely what is not supposed to happen. Sure, in the old inefficient socialist states like the Soviet Union, where employment was considered both a right and a sacred duty, the system made up as many jobs as they had to (this is why in Soviet department stores it took three clerks to sell a piece of meat). But, of course, this is the sort of very problem market competition is supposed to fix. According to economic theory, at least, the last thing a profit-seeking firm is going to do is shell out money to workers they don’t really need to employ. Still, somehow, it happens.

While corporations may engage in ruthless downsizing, the layoffs and speed-ups invariably fall on that class of people who are actually making, moving, fixing and maintaining things; through some strange alchemy no one can quite explain, the number of salaried paper-pushers ultimately seems to expand, and more and more employees find themselves, not unlike Soviet workers actually, working 40 or even 50 hour weeks on paper, but effectively working 15 hours just as Keynes predicted, since the rest of their time is spent organizing or attending motivational seminars, updating their facebook profiles or downloading TV box-sets.

The answer clearly isn’t economic: it’s moral and political. The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger (think of what started to happen when this even began to be approximated in the ‘60s). And, on the other hand, the feeling that work is a moral value in itself, and that anyone not willing to submit themselves to some kind of intense work discipline for most of their waking hours deserves nothing, is extraordinarily convenient for them.

Once, when contemplating the apparently endless growth of administrative responsibilities in British academic departments, I came up with one possible vision of hell. Hell is a collection of individuals who are spending the bulk of their time working on a task they don’t like and are not especially good at. Say they were hired because they were excellent cabinet-makers, and then discover they are expected to spend a great deal of their time frying fish. Neither does the task really need to be done – at least, there’s only a very limited number of fish that need to be fried. Yet somehow, they all become so obsessed with resentment at the thought that some of their co-workers might be spending more time making cabinets, and not doing their fair share of the fish-frying responsibilities, that before long there’s endless piles of useless badly cooked fish piling up all over the workshop and it’s all that anyone really does.

I think this is actually a pretty accurate description of the moral dynamics of our own economy.

Now, I realise any such argument is going to run into immediate objections: “who are you to say what jobs are really ‘necessary’? What’s necessary anyway? You’re an anthropology professor, what’s the ‘need’ for that?” (And indeed a lot of tabloid readers would take the existence of my job as the very definition of wasteful social expenditure.) And on one level, this is obviously true. There can be no objective measure of social value.

I would not presume to tell someone who is convinced they are making a meaningful contribution to the world that, really, they are not. But what about those people who are themselves convinced their jobs are meaningless? Not long ago I got back in touch with a school friend who I hadn’t seen since I was 12. I was amazed to discover that in the interim, he had become first a poet, then the front man in an indie rock band. I’d heard some of his songs on the radio having no idea the singer was someone I actually knew. He was obviously brilliant, innovative, and his work had unquestionably brightened and improved the lives of people all over the world. Yet, after a couple of unsuccessful albums, he’d lost his contract, and plagued with debts and a newborn daughter, ended up, as he put it, “taking the default choice of so many directionless folk: law school.” Now he’s a corporate lawyer working in a prominent New York firm. He was the first to admit that his job was utterly meaningless, contributed nothing to the world, and, in his own estimation, should not really exist.

There’s a lot of questions one could ask here, starting with, what does it say about our society that it seems to generate an extremely limited demand for talented poet-musicians, but an apparently infinite demand for specialists in corporate law? (Answer: if 1% of the population controls most of the disposable wealth, what we call “the market” reflects what they think is useful or important, not anybody else.) But even more, it shows that most people in these jobs are ultimately aware of it. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever met a corporate lawyer who didn’t think their job was bullshit. The same goes for almost all the new industries outlined above. There is a whole class of salaried professionals that, should you meet them at parties and admit that you do something that might be considered interesting (an anthropologist, for example), will want to avoid even discussing their line of work entirely. Give them a few drinks, and they will launch into tirades about how pointless and stupid their job really is.

This is a profound psychological violence here. How can one even begin to speak of dignity in labour when one secretly feels one’s job should not exist? How can it not create a sense of deep rage and resentment. Yet it is the peculiar genius of our society that its rulers have figured out a way, as in the case of the fish-fryers, to ensure that rage is directed precisely against those who actually do get to do meaningful work. For instance: in our society, there seems a general rule that, the more obviously one’s work benefits other people, the less one is likely to be paid for it. Again, an objective measure is hard to find, but one easy way to get a sense is to ask: what would happen were this entire class of people to simply disappear? Say what you like about nurses, garbage collectors, or mechanics, it’s obvious that were they to vanish in a puff of smoke, the results would be immediate and catastrophic. A world without teachers or dock-workers would soon be in trouble, and even one without science fiction writers or ska musicians would clearly be a lesser place. It’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish. (Many suspect it might markedly improve.) Yet apart from a handful of well-touted exceptions (doctors), the rule holds surprisingly well.

Even more perverse, there seems to be a broad sense that this is the way things should be. This is one of the secret strengths of right-wing populism. You can see it when tabloids whip up resentment against tube workers for paralysing London during contract disputes: the very fact that tube workers can paralyse London shows that their work is actually necessary, but this seems to be precisely what annoys people. It’s even clearer in the US, where Republicans have had remarkable success mobilizing resentment against school teachers, or auto workers (and not, significantly, against the school administrators or auto industry managers who actually cause the problems) for their supposedly bloated wages and benefits. It’s as if they are being told “but you get to teach children! Or make cars! You get to have real jobs! And on top of that you have the nerve to also expect middle-class pensions and health care?”

If someone had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital, it’s hard to see how they could have done a better job. Real, productive workers are relentlessly squeezed and exploited. The remainder are divided between a terrorised stratum of the, universally reviled, unemployed and a larger stratum who are basically paid to do nothing, in positions designed to make them identify with the perspectives and sensibilities of the ruling class (managers, administrators, etc) – and particularly its financial avatars – but, at the same time, foster a simmering resentment against anyone whose work has clear and undeniable social value. Clearly, the system was never consciously designed. It emerged from almost a century of trial and error. But it is the only explanation for why, despite our technological capacities, we are not all working 3-4 hour days.

David Graeber is a Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics. His most recent book, The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement, is published by Spiegel & Grau.


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[Nov 07, 2015] Barbara Garson How to Become a Part-Time Worker Without Really Trying

Aug 22, 2013 | naked capitalism

Clive:

Found the link now:

http://www.theguardian.com/money/2013/aug/21/bank-intern-death-working-hours

LucyLulu:

I don't recall where I read another story about this, but it said the cause of death was unknown. It also showed a portion of his webpage with the Serenity Prayer quoted and I wondered (granted, was speculative) if he had a history of addiction. Then I read the Guardian link posted and saw it reported that toxicology results were pending (yeah, it's routine testing for a death of unknown cause, but not typically highlighted in press reports IME). So, I question how accurate "working himself to death" might be. A gut feeling says his death was drug-related, not that it becomes any less tragic or senseless for being so.

That being said, if he did struggle with addiction or had become sober relatively recently, working those type of hours would have put his sobriety at risk. He either would have or should have been warned to limit himself to ~40 hours/week, even if it meant skipping the internship (as whatever is deemed more important than staying clean will be lost…… or so is the common wisdom).

I wonder if Merrill Lynch was unaware of his being at risk, or if they knew and ignored it. I could be wrong but it seems an internship and the mentoring role would (or perhaps the mother in me thinks it should) imply some sort of custodial responsibility on the part of Merrill, or whatever the correct term would be.

Clive:

You're right of course Lucy - innocent until proven guilty applies to everyone or not at all.

I would add that suicidality, depression / stress, chemical or behavioural dependency are often co-morbid. If an individual is predisposed to these conditions, it will be exacerbated by a presence of overwork.

Overwork can also be a trigger. I'm not sure we ever want to normalise a culture where 15 hour days are routinely tolerated and thus degenerate into employment Darwinism where only the strongest survive.

Yves Smith

LucyLulu,

I don't know if you've every worked the sort of hours young people on the investment banking (NOT trading) side work at big firms. I had one of these jobs back in the early 1980s. It is simply inconceivable unless you've been in it. It's worse than what medical residents are put through. You are not permitted to say no, you have (in my case) 100 people who can give you work (30+ clients, typically 2 or more people at the firm who could ask that something be done, plus the client would often call the junior staffers directly if they wanted something small done quickly) with none of them caring what the other 99 had you doing. Priorities changing all the time intra day as markets moved and deals got accelerated or delayed and pitches to clients had to be changed based on changing market info (you could not finalize any client marketing piece until you had closing prices at 4, which meant inevitably you were working into the evening, and that was the more ordered part of the work).

How do these firms get away with it? They are the most prestigious, sought after employers. They can hire whoever they want. They seek people who are smart, intensely competitive, and insecure. They then wind up in an environment that has much in common with a cult. People wind up largely abandoning all their former friends and spending much less time with their families due to the hours and the pay gap (people who make that much money are quickly acculturated to eat out and spend what little recreational time they have at a lavish level). The environments are also extremely conformist. Social psychologists write about the power of social assent, that if enough people in your environment do something, you'll see it as normal, even required. And the extreme hours are most certainly required. Young people in these jobs are expected to have no boundaries. When asked to do something, they are not permitted to say "No, I already have too much on my plate, I can't take that on". The only acceptable answer is "When do you need it?"

I known one someone at Salomon who started vomiting under the stress. Every half hour. Went back and kept working after each incident. Electrolytes got so messed up he collapsed and had to be hospitalized. I know another person at Lazard, working on a big deal. Was seen in the office lying on the floor on one side reading documents over the weekend. People asked if she was OK. She waved them away, insisted she was fine. The pain eventually got so bad she went home and called her boyfriend. He ran up and took her immediately to the hospital. The operated straight away, thinking it was appendicitis. It was diverticulitis, which is usually a disease of old people but can be brought on by stress and bad diet. They had to remove half her colon. Had they gotten to her a half hour later, her colon would have ruptured and she would have died.

Same woman later lost 90% of her vision in one eye due to glaucoma, didn't have time to get regular eye exams. This was the price of becoming the first woman partner in M&A at any major firm.

I can give you other stories like that. Breakdown is hardly unheard of.

I did 2 all nighters in a row and was starting to have trouble with motor function (coordination for inputting data was starting to go). Three, which is what this young man did, amounts to torture. And you can do that on mere caffeine.

Your blaming his death on drugs when I am highly confident you've never done more than one all nighter and have no idea what that does to you is uninformed and is supporting the banks and abusive work environments generally.

LucyLulu:

I read the link you posted and one other article. If it was mentioned that he had stayed up three nights in a row, somehow I overlooked it. And yes, I've done several (successive) all-nighters in the past, having to be on call for a week at a time, and work 12 hour days even if up all night (fairly often). I didn't fare well, and didn't stay at the job long.

I wasn't meaning to be judgmental towards the intern. I consider his death just as tragic and senseless if it was fatigue-induced, and my point about responsibility lying with the mentoring firm still stands.

In fact, I don't understand why the practice is allowed to continue. Medical residents and related professions have since had limits imposed on the number of hours that can be asked to work without time off.

Yves Smith:

Lucy,

Thanks for the reply, but even then, your experience with all nighters is not directly comparable. I meant all nighters while you were working, as in 48+ hours of continuous work except for dealing with essential bodily functions and some hygiene. And this is also in an environment that is intolerant of errors, where typos or computation errors are career enders or severely detrimental.

So even working 12 hours and not sleeping well/at all by being on call is not the same as having to keep working except for eating and showering/clothes change time/pottie breaks. The stress level is considerably worse.

As to the three all-nighters, it has been reported but not confirmed. And BofA will clearly try to make what happened look less awful than it was:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/the-hot-button/bank-of-america-intern-found-dead-alleged-to-have-pulled-three-all-nighters-in-a-row/article13897556/

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/slavery-in-the-city-death-of-21yearold-intern-moritz-erhardt-at-merrill-lynch-sparks-furore-over-long-hours-and-macho-culture-at-banks-8775917.html

http://jobs.aol.com/articles/2013/08/20/bank-of-america-intern-died-after-pulling-three-all-nighters-re/

DolleyMadison:

yep…I used to wonder how battered women stayed with their abusers…I didn't realize until after I LEFT BofA that I was essentially a battered woman…surrounded by her enabling in laws.

You don't realize how crazy it is until you leave. It really is like a cult.

If you raise your hand to question the regime, retribution is swift and sure, even among "friends" with decades long relationships, and even against spouses. I truly believe some of my former co-workers would even commit murder if their overlords insisted on it.

Nathanael:

I'm glad to be immune to that particular sort of coercion thanks to abnormal psychology. I wish more people were like me.

Worth noting: the particular psychological oddities which make people resistant to that type of coercion seem to be the same ones which make people good at computer programming. I have no idea what the social consequences of that combination will be.

LucyLulu:

I'm really not trying to be argumentative, but actually I WAS talking about working all night, as I took after-hours call from home, at least until I had to go get somebody admitted or petitioned or go out and do an emergency assessment or something. It was clear what you meant when I said I had done it also. I would also argue that mistakes kinda aren't tolerated in the health field either, though perhaps for different reasons.

Nobody should be expected to work for 72 hours straight, nor is there a need, it's sheer exploitation to maximize profits. It's more than the human body and mind can endure. Workers need to stand up and say no. I think that's something people tend to learn as they get older, gain confidence, and their priorities become more clear. 21 is still very young. And saying no, if it means possibly the loss of the job, is not so easy when employment is scarce and an income is needed, or it's a standard requirement for one's chosen career, as apparently it must be in finance (Higher Power sending initial clue that one has chosen lousy career??). Workers no longer have unions to help them negotiate collectively….. though nursing never joined unions in most parts of the country, It was deemed to be beneath the professional status of a registered nurse to be a union member, rather conveniently. Thee places I ended working, almost exclusively in the south, it was risky to be overheard mentioning "unions" within earshot of management. IIRC, the provision of nursing staff is easily a hospital's single largest expenditure. With unionized nursing, how can a hospital pay their CEO their $15M living wage?

fajensen:

I wonder if Merrill Lynch was unaware of his being at risk, or if they knew and ignored it.

Easy to find out*: If the HR-bods either knew or suspected anything they would have taken out a life insurance on the poor guy, with Merill Lynch as beneficiaries.

Gotta play them odds!

*) Or maybe not so easy – It is depressingly common for employers to buy a little bet on the early demise of the "Human Ressources".

Nathanael:

"But what of the next generation, mired in debt and subject to the extraction by the multitude of licensed protection racket players in healthcare, finance, education or housing ? How can they ever get ahead ?"

Off-the-books economy. Find one part-time job which gives you enough tenuous connection to the on-the-books economy that the police state doesn't get suspicious, then do *ALL* your other work off the books.

Lambert Strether:

"Off-the-books economy." And commit perjury on your ObamaCare application?

LucyLulu:

If it's off the books, you're already committing tax fraud (or tax evasion, or something like that) on your IRS return.

Nathanael, The off-the-book work would also have to be something that could be done on a flexible schedule since the part time job hours will change every week. But any work where you can be your own boss and set your own hours is preferable to dependence upon the 'good will' of an employer, IMO. I'm working on that one myself. (I knew I should have taken basketweaving.)

LucyLulu:

This link by Charlie Stross was on Jesse's page and was an intriguing read on the implications of the current labor culture. Stross theorizes that Snowden and Alynikov type defectors will become the norm now that Gen Y, first born in the early 80′s, are starting to flood the labor market (most employers don't have the vast resources for retribution of the US gov and Goldman-Sachs). Gen Y is the first generation having no prior work experience in a culture that favors mutual employee/employer commitment, nor having grown up witnessing parents in more secure "jobs-for-life" and termination-for-cause employment. They've only had experience with jobs that are outsourced, offshored, laid-off, contract, zero-hours, temporary, part-time, etc.

Gen Y believes in the workplace golden rule ("do unto others as they do unto you"… okay, I've taken some liberties paraphrasing Stross). Thus today's employees will have no less reticence about 'screwing' their (former) employers to advance their own self-interests, than employers have about 'screwing' their workers to maximize profits. It's a good read.

With any luck, it won't be merely wishful thinking to say: Karma's a bitch!

Doug Terpstra:

Yes, it's "funny" how the Wal-Mart right-to-work churn, permanent student debt, gross inequality, and social insecurity caused by a triumphant class war has fractured American cultural cohesion, especially within Gen Y. At this juncture economic dynamism can no longer be sustained, and along with it, autonomic patriotism. Following up on fajensen above, in a climate of callous top-down disloyalty, the roster of conscientious whistleblowers such as Snowden, Manning, Assange, Kiriakou, Darby (Abu Ghraib), Drake (NSA) and many more, is certain to grow. Dissent rises gradually, then rapidly, as things fall apart and the center cannot hold.

I think we have a great disharmonic convergence coming, likely this year. Ben Shalom is leaving and is almost sure to take away the punch bowl before Summers is seated.

psychohistorian:

Karma is a bitch.

That is what is going to bring the current system to a halt. The young ones are not daft, I am finding.

The current economic/social system runs on computers and if servers stop/slow or the networks begin not working right, the trust level is eventually broke and all hell breaks loose…..geometric finger pointing and cascading fail overs between and among vendors.

Being an old techie I engage every other techie I run into and the young contract techies keeping the NSA sub contractors running are a hairsbreath from mayhem the management can't contain.

Go long on popcorn and don't be surprised if techie shit gets less reliable for a while. Prepare for a bouncy ride.

Kievite:

psychohistorian,

The trend toward less qualification in IT is probably present as younger people did not experience the emerging of all those technologies as oltimers did. So they have less "in-depth" knowledge that old-timers acquired due to this process. But there are old-timers and old-timers. A lot of old-times are just accidental people which moved to the field during boom years of IT (say, 1990-1998). Many of them are barely competent in what they are doing even now.

I would not get too exited about new generation of IT workers (mostly part-time and lower paid) greatly affecting network or server reliability. May be something will happen on the margins. But it looks completely remote to me. May be due to commodization of the technology the IT support on the level of the firm now matter less. Complex issues are solved by vendor support, or professional consultants. Enterprise software is also more or less standardized.

Where huge blunders are now made is at senior level, where people became generally detached from technology (and sometimes from reality). Also too many technically illiterate bean counters were promoted to senior positions. And they often rely on fashion (and vendor hype and/or bribing) in adopting new technologies for the firm. But at the end of the day this is just modest cost overruns. Nothing to be exited about. So something that cost $100K is bought for a million and cost another couple of million in maintenance fees and internal costs before being abandoned. That's about it. Remember IT is generally around 1% of the total cost of a large company operations.

hazmat:

Employers destroyed the golden rule in the work place. As an employee, you simply cannot continue to treat them the way you wish to be treated over a sustainable period of time when they offer only these kinds of abuses in return.

Reciprocity is the new rule for employees. If they take care of you, take care of them and treat them well. Pamper them. If they screw you over, return the favor a multitude worse. Make it painful.

Doug Terpstra:

Thank you, Yves, for another great bottom-line assessment of the change Obama has inflicted on us - the exact inverse of his electoral campaign. Although Ms. Garson says nothing of Obamacare directly, the ACA (the Insurance Racket Bailout Act) is now a huge reason for the great bait-and-switch acceleration to part-time and freelance jobs. As Lambert has reported it is hugely damaging socio-economic engineering.

https://www.facebook.com/Forever21/posts/10151671544189550.

This is Obama's legacy, shaping up to be not abysmal but disastrous. Even worse, I suspect it's intentional, the deliberate creative destruction of disaster capitalism in a grab for absolute power. That's the most disheartening apprehension.

Here are a few more inconvenient truths about our change president from "33 Shocking Facts Which Show How Badly The Economy Has Tanked Since Obama Became President". It's an objective and damning assessment of real change under Obama. People won't be able to ignore these much longer, and eventually even veal pen journalists (MSDNC) will have to acknowledge certain stubborn facts:

#1 When Barack Obama entered the White House, 60.6 percent of working age Americans had a job. Today, only 58.7 percent of working age Americans have a job.

#2 Since Obama has been president, seven out of every eight jobs that have been "created" in the U.S. economy have been part-time jobs. [87% of job creation…part-time; this differs from the post(?)] … #5 40 percent of all workers in the United States actually make less than what a full-time 11 since the 2006-2007 school year. … #8 According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the middle class is taking home a smaller share of the overall income pie than has ever been recorded before.

#20 Health insurance costs have risen by 29 percent since Barack Obama became president, and Obamacare is going to make things far worse. … #23 In 2008, that total amount of student loan debt in this country was 440 billion dollars. At this point, it has shot up to about a trillion dollars.

#24 According to one recent survey, 76 percent of all Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.

http://theeconomiccollapseblog.com/archives/33-shocking-facts-which-show-how-the-u-s-economy-has-tanked-since-obama-became-president

You get the idea. And those are only some of the economic changes, without even broaching disastrous militarism, and police-state espionage.

Robert Dudek:

I've got a good title for a book on this phenomenon. Unfortunately, it's already been taken: Road to Serfdom.

reason

And you seriously think this is all Obama's fault and that the GOP had nothing to do with it?

Michael Fiorillo:

Needless to say, the GOP has much to do with it, but it's two hands washing each other.

The infernal brilliance of the Overclass' support for Obama is his ability to misdirect and divert whatever energies for resistance remain within what passes for the Left.

What insidious genius to have a Black man (well, sort of) be the one to undermine Social Security, public education (his policies are at least as bad as Bush's, probably worse) and institutionalize the National Security State.

Sure, the GOP is at fault, but Obama was hired to make sure that potential opposition remains paralyzed.

Doug Terpstra:

All O's fault? No, but it's his legacy, like it or not. Clearly it doesn't bother him.

Blame the last four and a half years on Republicans if you like. So then, let's just say O's been implausibly impotent and hopelessly inept.

Not only are none of the foregoing economic failures his fault,

I could go on and on but it would bore informed NC readers to tears. You may think Obama is hapless and incompetent to the point of making Herbert Hoover look like an activist progressive. I happen to believe he's brilliant, an epic false messiah, a diabolically-hypnotic charlatan who's a total eclipse of his idol Reagan.

Nathanael:

"You may think Obama is hapless and incompetent to the point of making Herbert Hoover look like an activist progressive. I happen to believe he's brilliant, an epic false messiah, a diabolically-hypnotic charlatan who's a total eclipse of his idol Reagan."

And I don't really care which he is. I judge entirely by results. Whatever is in his "deepest heart", in practice Obama has been very close to G.W.Bush's third and fourth terms. (Oh, there are weird little exceptions, like railway funding, but I think Obama wasn't paying ANY attention to that.)

bluntobj:

Laying blame on one side or the other is like sitting in a stadium and cheering for your team, red or blue. The owners of both teams are up in the owner's box, drinking champagne together and counting the ticket & concession sales cash.

Just entering that stadium means you've bought in to their propaganda. The only safe path is to opt out and create an alternative to the game inside for yourself.

George:

None of this is a surprise. . . a few years ago at my company, it was decided to withdraw all benefits for freelance employees, many who were putting in full time hours as any staff employee. The freelancers staged a walk out and the company relented in the short term by grandfathering those freelancers employed at that time with their current benefits.

Since then, the benefits for those freelancers have been reduced to the barest of medical plans with high deductibles. Any new freelancers who come in don't get health insurance unless they work a consecutive number of days in a row, which is near to impossible since the company forces them to take 6 weeks off throughout the year, thus cementing the fact that they'll never receive health insurance.

At that time, the company cited being competitive in the global market, and pointed to our competitors which made similar changes years earlier. Considering we've been earning healthy profits after the first year of the Great Recession, and the CEO and other high level execs lining their pockets with record sums, it's pretty clear they're more interested in short term gains as pushed by Wall Street.

That greed is really what's ruining this country and those playing the game won't be satisfied till they've squeezed us for all the money we have, laughing all the way to the bank in Singapore

Handgrip:

Give me one good reason "to work" at all?

bluntobj:

Only work for yourself by opting out of the game being played in the stadium.

You will be considered a whacko and stupid, but those insults will be coming from people with underwater houses, CC debt up to their eyeballs, a job they hate, a 101k retirement plan coming in September, and a heart condition due to stress.

Think alternatively, and be much happier.

Wat Tyler:

Saying from the old Soviet Union:

"They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work."

No society can survive if work is not valued at the economic and psychological levels.

[Oct 24, 2015] Phone in sick: its a small act of rebellion against wage slavery

Notable quotes:
"... By far the biggest act of wage slavery rebellion, don't buy shit. The less you buy, the less you need to earn. Holidays by far the minority of your life should not be a desperate escape from the majority of your life. Spend less, work less and actually really enjoy living more. ..."
"... How about don't shop at Walmart (they helped boost the Chinese economy while committing hari kari on the American Dream) and actually engaging in proper labour action? Calling in sick is just plain childish. ..."
"... I'm all for sticking it to the man, but when you call into work for a stupid reason (and a hangover is a very stupid reason), it is selfish, and does more damage to the cause of worker's rights, not less. I don't know about where you work, but if I call in sick to my job, other people have to pick up my slack. I work for a public library, and we don't have a lot of funds, so we have the bear minimum of employees we can have and still work efficiently. As such, if anybody calls in, everyone else, up to and including the library director, have to take on more work. ..."
Oct 24, 2015 | The Guardian

"Phoning in sick is a revolutionary act." I loved that slogan. It came to me, as so many good things did, from Housmans, the radical bookshop in King's Cross. There you could rummage through all sorts of anarchist pamphlets and there I discovered, in the early 80s, the wondrous little magazine Processed World. It told you basically how to screw up your workplace. It was smart and full of small acts of random subversion. In many ways it was ahead of its time as it was coming out of San Francisco and prefiguring Silicon Valley. It saw the machines coming. Jobs were increasingly boring and innately meaningless. Workers were "data slaves" working for IBM ("Intensely Boring Machines").

What Processed World was doing was trying to disrupt the identification so many office workers were meant to feel with their management, not through old-style union organising, but through small acts of subversion. The modern office, it stressed, has nothing to do with human need. Its rebellion was about working as little as possible, disinformation and sabotage. It was making alienation fun. In 1981, it could not have known that a self-service till cannot ever phone in sick.

I was thinking of this today, as I wanted to do just that. I have made myself ill with a hangover. A hangover, I always feel, is nature's way of telling you to have a day off. One can be macho about it and eat your way back to sentience via the medium of bacon sandwiches and Maltesers. At work, one is dehydrated, irritable and only semi-present. Better, surely, though to let the day fall through you and dream away.

Having worked in America, though, I can say for sure that they brook no excuses whatsoever. When I was late for work and said things like, "My alarm clock did not go off", they would say that this was not a suitable explanation, which flummoxed me. I had to make up others. This was just to work in a shop.

This model of working – long hours, very few holidays, few breaks, two incomes needed to raise kids, crazed loyalty demanded by huge corporations, the American way – is where we're heading. Except now the model is even more punishing. It is China. We are expected to compete with an economy whose workers are often closer to indentured slaves than anything else.

This is what striving is, then: dangerous, demoralising, often dirty work. Buckle down. It's the only way forward, apparently, which is why our glorious leaders are sucking up to China, which is immoral, never mind ridiculously short-term thinking.

So again I must really speak up for the skivers. What we have to understand about austerity is its psychic effects. People must have less. So they must have less leisure, too. The fact is life is about more than work and work is rapidly changing. Skiving in China may get you killed but here it may be a small act of resistance, or it may just be that skivers remind us that there is meaning outside wage-slavery.

Work is too often discussed by middle-class people in ways that are simply unrecognisable to anyone who has done crappy jobs. Much work is not interesting and never has been. Now that we have a political and media elite who go from Oxbridge to working for a newspaper or a politician, a lot of nonsense is spouted. These people have not cleaned urinals on a nightshift. They don't sit lonely in petrol stations manning the till. They don't have to ask permission for a toilet break in a call centre. Instead, their work provides their own special identity. It is very important.

Low-status jobs, like caring, are for others. The bottom-wipers of this world do it for the glory, I suppose. But when we talk of the coming automation that will reduce employment, bottom-wiping will not be mechanised. Nor will it be romanticised, as old male manual labour is. The mad idea of reopening the coal mines was part of the left's strange notion of the nobility of labour. Have these people ever been down a coal mine? Would they want that life for their children?

Instead we need to talk about the dehumanising nature of work. Bertrand Russell and Keynes thought our goal should be less work, that technology would mean fewer hours.

Far from work giving meaning to life, in some surveys 40% of us say that our jobs are meaningless. Nonetheless, the art of skiving is verboten as we cram our children with ever longer hours of school and homework. All this striving is for what exactly? A soul-destroying job?

Just as education is decided by those who loved school, discussions about work are had by those to whom it is about more than income.

The parts of our lives that are not work – the places we dream or play or care, the space we may find creative – all these are deemed outside the economy. All this time is unproductive. But who decides that?

Skiving work is bad only to those who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

So go on: phone in sick. You know you want to.

friedad 23 Oct 2015 18:27

We now exist in a society in which the Fear Cloud is wrapped around each citizen. Our proud history of Union and Labor, fighting for decent wages and living conditions for all citizens, and mostly achieving these aims, a history, which should be taught to every child educated in every school in this country, now gradually but surely eroded by ruthless speculators in government, is the future generations are inheriting. The workforce in fear of taking a sick day, the young looking for work in fear of speaking out at diminishing rewards, definitely this 21st Century is the Century of Fear. And how is this fear denied, with mind blowing drugs, regardless if it is is alcohol, description drugs, illicit drugs, a society in denial. We do not require a heavenly object to destroy us, a few soulless monsters in our mist are masters of manipulators, getting closer and closer to accomplish their aim of having zombies doing their beckoning. Need a kidney, no worries, zombie dishwasher, is handy for one. Oh wait that time is already here.

Hemulen6 23 Oct 2015 15:06

Oh join the real world, Suzanne! Many companies now have a limit to how often you can be sick. In the case of the charity I work for it's 9 days a year. I overstepped it, I was genuinely sick, and was hauled up in front of Occupational Health. That will now go on my record and count against me. I work for a cancer care charity. Irony? Surely not.

AlexLeo -> rebel7 23 Oct 2015 13:34

Which is exactly my point. You compete on relevant job skills and quality of your product, not what school you have attended.

Yes, there are thousands, tens of thousands of folks here around San Jose who barely speak English, but are smart and hard working as hell and it takes them a few years to get to 150-200K per year, Many of them get to 300-400K, if they come from strong schools in their countries of origin, compared to the 10k or so where they came from, but probably more than the whining readership here.

This is really difficult to swallow for the Brits back in Britain, isn't it. Those who have moved over have experiences the type of social mobility unthinkable in Britain, but they have had to work hard and get to 300K-700K per year, much better than the 50-100K their parents used to make back in GB. These are averages based on personal interactions with say 50 Brits in the last 15 + years, all employed in the Silicon Valley in very different jobs and roles.

Todd Owens -> Scott W 23 Oct 2015 11:00

I get what you're saying and I agree with a lot of what you said. My only gripe is most employees do not see an operation from a business owner or managerial / financial perspective. They don't understand the costs associated with their performance or lack thereof. I've worked on a lot of projects that we're operating at a loss for a future payoff. When someone decides they don't want to do the work they're contracted to perform that can have a cascading effect on the entire company.

All in all what's being described is for the most part misguided because most people are not in the position or even care to evaluate the particulars. So saying you should do this to accomplish that is bullshit because it's rarely such a simple equation. If anything this type of tactic will leaf to MORE loss and less money for payroll.


weematt -> Barry1858 23 Oct 2015 09:04

Sorry you just can't have a 'nicer' capitalism.

War ( business by other means) and unemployment ( you can't buck the market), are inevitable concomitants of capitalist competition over markets, trade routes and spheres of interests. (Remember the war science of Nagasaki and Hiroshima from the 'good guys' ?)
"..capital comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt". (Marx)

You can't have full employment, or even the 'Right to Work'.

There is always ,even in boom times a reserve army of unemployed, to drive down wages. (If necessary they will inject inflation into the economy)
Unemployment is currently 5.5 percent or 1,860,000 people. If their "equilibrium rate" of unemployment is 4% rather than 5% this would still mean 1,352,000 "need be unemployed". The government don't want these people to find jobs as it would strengthen workers' bargaining position over wages, but that doesn't stop them harassing them with useless and petty form-filling, reporting to the so-called "job centre" just for the sake of it, calling them scroungers and now saying they are mentally defective.
Government is 'over' you not 'for' you.

Governments do not exist to ensure 'fair do's' but to manage social expectations with the minimum of dissent, commensurate with the needs of capitalism in the interests of profit.

Worker participation amounts to self managing workers self exploitation for the maximum of profit for the capitalist class.

Exploitation takes place at the point of production.

" Instead of the conservative motto, 'A fair day's wage for a fair day's work!' they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword, 'Abolition of the wages system!'"

Karl Marx [Value, Price and Profit]

John Kellar 23 Oct 2015 07:19

Fortunately; as a retired veteran I don't have to worry about phoning in sick.However; during my Air Force days if you were sick, you had to get yourself to the Base Medical Section and prove to a medical officer that you were sick. If you convinced the medical officer of your sickness then you may have been luck to receive on or two days sick leave. For those who were very sick or incapable of getting themselves to Base Medical an ambulance would be sent - promptly.


Rchrd Hrrcks -> wumpysmum 23 Oct 2015 04:17

The function of civil disobedience is to cause problems for the government. Let's imagine that we could get 100,000 people to agree to phone in sick on a particular date in protest at austerity etc. Leaving aside the direct problems to the economy that this would cause. It would also demonstrate a willingness to take action. It would demonstrate a capability to organise mass direct action. It would demonstrate an ability to bring people together to fight injustice. In and of itself it might not have much impact, but as a precedent set it could be the beginning of something massive, including further acts of civil disobedience.


wumpysmum Rchrd Hrrcks 23 Oct 2015 03:51

There's already a form of civil disobedience called industrial action, which the govt are currently attacking by attempting to change statute. Random sickies as per my post above are certainly not the answer in the public sector at least, they make no coherent political point just cause problems for colleagues. Sadly too in many sectors and with the advent of zero hours contracts sickies put workers at risk of sanctions and lose them earnings.


Alyeska 22 Oct 2015 22:18

I'm American. I currently have two jobs and work about 70 hours a week, and I get no paid sick days. In fact, the last time I had a job with a paid sick day was 2001. If I could afford a day off, you think I'd be working 70 hours a week?

I barely make rent most months, and yes... I have two college degrees. When I try to organize my coworkers to unionize for decent pay and benefits, they all tell me not to bother.... they are too scared of getting on management's "bad side" and "getting in trouble" (yes, even though the law says management can't retaliate.)

Unions are different in the USA than in the UK. The workforce has to take a vote to unionize the company workers; you can't "just join" a union here. That's why our pay and working conditions have gotten worse, year after year.


rtb1961 22 Oct 2015 21:58

By far the biggest act of wage slavery rebellion, don't buy shit. The less you buy, the less you need to earn. Holidays by far the minority of your life should not be a desperate escape from the majority of your life. Spend less, work less and actually really enjoy living more.

Pay less attention to advertising and more attention to the enjoyable simplicity of life, of real direct human relationships, all of them, the ones in passing where you wish a stranger well, chats with service staff to make their life better as well as your own, exchange thoughts and ideas with others, be a human being and share humanity with other human beings.

Mkjaks 22 Oct 2015 20:35

How about don't shop at Walmart (they helped boost the Chinese economy while committing hari kari on the American Dream) and actually engaging in proper labour action? Calling in sick is just plain childish.

toffee1 22 Oct 2015 19:13

It is only considered productive if it feeds the beast, that is, contribute to the accumulation of capital so that the beast can have more power over us. The issue here is the wage labor. The 93 percent of the U.S. working population perform wage labor (see BLS site). It is the highest proportion in any society ever came into history. Under the wage labor (employment) contract, the worker gives up his/her decision making autonomy. The worker accepts the full command of his/her employer during the labor process. The employer directs and commands the labor process to achieve the goals set by himself. Compare this, for example, self-employed providing a service (for example, a plumber). In this case, the customer describes the problem to the service provider but the service provider makes all the decisions on how to organize and apply his labor to solve the problem. Or compare it to a democratically organized coop, where workers make all the decisions collectively, where, how and what to produce. Under the present economic system, a great majority of us are condemned to work in large corporations performing wage labor. The system of wage labor stripping us from autonomy on our own labor, creates all the misery in our present world through alienation. Men and women lose their humanity alienated from their own labor. Outside the world of wage labor, labor can be a source self-realization and true freedom. Labor can be the real fulfillment and love. Labor together our capacity to love make us human. Bourgeoisie dehumanized us steeling our humanity. Bourgeoisie, who sold her soul to the beast, attempting to turn us into ever consuming machines for the accumulation of capital.

patimac54 -> Zach Baker 22 Oct 2015 17:39

Well said. Most retail employers have cut staff to the minimum possible to keep the stores open so if anyone is off sick, it's the devil's own job trying to just get customers served. Making your colleagues work even harder than they normally do because you can't be bothered to act responsibly and show up is just plain selfish.
And sorry, Suzanne, skiving work is nothing more than an act of complete disrespect for those you work with. If you don't understand that, try getting a proper job for a few months and learn how to exercise some self control.

TettyBlaBla -> FranzWilde 22 Oct 2015 17:25

It's quite the opposite in government jobs where I am in the US. As the fiscal year comes to a close, managers look at their budgets and go on huge spending sprees, particularly for temp (zero hours in some countries) help and consultants. They fear if they don't spend everything or even a bit more, their spending will be cut in the next budget. This results in people coming in to do work on projects that have no point or usefulness, that will never be completed or even presented up the food chain of management, and ends up costing taxpayers a small fortune.

I did this one year at an Air Quality Agency's IT department while the paid employees sat at their desks watching portable televisions all day. It was truly demeaning.

oommph -> Michael John Jackson 22 Oct 2015 16:59

Thing is though, children - dependents to pay for - are the easiest way to keep yourself chained to work.

The homemaker model works as long as your spouse's employer retains them (and your spouse retains you in an era of 40% divorce).

You are just as dependent on an employer and "work" but far less in control of it now.


Zach Baker 22 Oct 2015 16:41

I'm all for sticking it to "the man," but when you call into work for a stupid reason (and a hangover is a very stupid reason), it is selfish, and does more damage to the cause of worker's rights, not less. I don't know about where you work, but if I call in sick to my job, other people have to pick up my slack. I work for a public library, and we don't have a lot of funds, so we have the bear minimum of employees we can have and still work efficiently. As such, if anybody calls in, everyone else, up to and including the library director, have to take on more work. If I found out one of my co-workers called in because of a hangover, I'd be pissed. You made the choice to get drunk, knowing that you had to work the following morning. Putting it into the same category of someone who is sick and may not have the luxury of taking off because of a bad employer is insulting.


[Sep 21, 2014] Workaholism in America: A European's Perspective by Tijana Milosevic

01/08/2011 | huffingtonpost.com

Coming from Serbia -- a country of six million in Eastern Europe that once belonged to a larger, war-torn entity called socialist Yugoslavia -- I wasn't fully aware of the notion of "career anxiety" when I came to Washington D.C. for my MA degree. Until one evening, that is, at the very onset of the school year. A colleague of mine who was just turning 27 raised his glass and voiced his fear: "Twenty-seven: no serious job and no stable career track."

I was 23 at the time and could not comprehend why anyone would be obliged to have a "career track," let alone a stable one, especially at (what I saw as) the tender age of 27. In fact, I had never entertained the concept the way my American friends were referring to it.

While many Americans move out of their homes when they're 19 to hit college, the East- European model is quite different. Countries are smaller, and if there's any migration it is directed typically towards the capital, so young people continue to live with their families through college. Because of high unemployment rates and poor standard of living, they aren't expected to become financially independent, and many depend on their parents well into their late twenties or even early thirties -- without a sense of shame that such state of affairs entails in the US. These factors reduce the relevance of what Americans often describe as "the treadmill feel" -- an almost compulsive desire for continuous promotions, financial gains, followed by a rise in social status, and an increasing social anxiety.

In societies that are similar to mine, the American model is looked down upon as "harsh capitalistic," "individualistic" and above all "alienated," as American parents are not perceived to provide enough financial and emotional support for their children. In fact my family and friends had observed that I shouldn't have chosen America, since I would probably feel better in Western Europe -- where life is not as fast paced as in the US and capitalism still has a "human face."

For example, Americans still work nine full weeks (350 hours) longer than West Europeans do and paid vacation days across Western Europe are well above the US threshold. The French still have the 35 hour working week, while the hourly productivity is one of the highest in the world. On the other hand, in the US an increasing popularity of employment therapy suggests that a high-paying job still comes first, as job issues "have a huge mental health component," and therapists emphasize the importance of "toxic co-workers and the ramifications of massive layoffs."

Numerous writers have outlined the dangers of isolation and careerism in the American society. In her famous work "Eichmann in Jerusalem," Hannah Arendt equates careerism with a lack of thinking that led to Holocaust: "what for Eichmann was a job, with its daily routine, its ups and downs, was for the Jews quite literally the end of the world. Genocide [...] is work. If it is to be done, people must be hired and paid; if it is to be done well, they must be supervised and promoted."

In Serbia even young and busy corporate-minded career professionals do not have to mark their calendars to meet with close friends. One can always find the time for a spontaneous chat over coffee. Still, this laid back culture is now beginning to change with an increasing development of free market capitalism. I still remember how strange it felt when I first came to DC and had to schedule coffees and lunches with people weeks or even months in advance. I found it odd that people rarely picked up the cell phone (which, granted, could be merely my personal experience, although many Americans confirmed it!) and would often leave the time and date of the call in their voicemails, which implied the other person might not get back to them in a while. I also came to discover that what Americans often referred to as "friends," people from my region would prefer to call "acquaintances." The term "friend" cannot be reserved for someone you meet once in a couple of months and do not know well enough to open up to.

Those experiences bring to mind a memorable line from from "Eat, Pray, Love," a biographical story recently turned into a Hollywood blockbuster starring Julia Roberts: "You Americans know entertainment but you do not know how to enjoy yourselves." Roberts plays a successful thirty-something American who decides to embark on a soul-searching trip to Italy, India and Bali after realizing her job, husband and newly bought house are not what she really wanted from life. Perhaps that's a superficial take on what many would describe as an equally superficial Californian trend to "do something spiritual," but the above quote shows there's something to the American career frenzy that remains unique to the United States. The opportunity cost for "dolce far niente" or "the joy of doing nothing," runs high.

Reflecting on this, I ran into an interesting take on "Eat Pray Love" by a 23-year old blogger: "We are not sympathetic to spiritual personal crises anymore. If you want to have an emotional breakdown about something, you better have a logical, elaborate and secular reason; otherwise you will be dismissed as whiny, annoying and laughable." I wonder if her comment has to do with the lack of experience or the possibility that the generation entering the work force will not have an adequate justification for its desire to escape the treadmill feel -- amidst all the superficial takes on this complex topic.

More:

Workaholism America Work Mentality The Balanced Life Europe Work Mentality America Work Life Balance u.s. Work Mentality America Workaholism Europe Work Life Balance u.s. Workaholism u.s. Work Life Balance America Work Life Balance Work Life Balance Work Life Balance Workaholism

[Aug 02, 2014] If You're Always Working, You're Never Working Well

August 02, 2014 | Soulskill
An anonymous reader writes: Hard work is almost an axiom in the U.S. - office culture continually rewards people who are at their desks early and stay late, regardless of actual performance.

Over the past decade, it's encroached even further into workers' private lives with the advent of smartphones. An article at the Harvard Business Review takes issue with the idea that more work is always better:

"When we accept this new and permanent ambient workload - checking business news in bed or responding to coworkers' emails during breakfast - we may believe that we are dedicated, tireless workers. But, actually, we're mostly just getting the small, easy things done. Being busy does not equate to being effective. ... And let's not forget about ambient play, which often distracts us from accomplishing our most important tasks. Facebook and Twitter report that their sites are most active during office hours. After all, the employee who's required to respond to her boss on Sunday morning will think nothing of responding to friends on Wednesday afternoon.

And research shows (PDF) that these digital derailments are costly: it's not only the minutes lost responding to a tweet but also the time and energy required to 'reenter' the original task."

How do we shift business culture to reward effective work more than the appearance of work?

Trepidity

partly as a result, work culture is also haphazard (5, Informative)

One of the bigger cultural differences I've found working in both the U.S. and Scandinavia is that American meetings are long, unpredictably scheduled, and really disorganized. A 10am meeting might really get down to business by 10:15 if you're lucky, maybe 10:30, and probably won't end on time at 11:00am.

Nobody will have distributed any material to consult ahead of time, or even a proper meeting agenda for that matter, and as a result people don't come particularly prepared, and a ton of time is wasted.

Since there is no real agenda, who needs to be at the meeting also hasn't been very carefully decided, so a bunch of people are just in case, and they spend half the time on Facebook or email while irrelevant parts of the meeting happen. The assumption seems to just be that just half-assing the whole thing is the best way to go...

dbIII (701233) | 11 hours ago | (#47588713)


Re:partly as a result, work culture is also haphaz (3, Insightful)

One of the bigger cultural differences I've found working in both the U.S. and Scandinavia is that American meetings are long, unpredictably scheduled, and really disorganized

One quite pathetic situation/problem in large organisations is that people can be seen to be more effective the more "face time" you have with them. Thus some long meetings exist for the sole purpose of spending time with the people with the power to promote. Apparently it then snowballs into the "company culture".
Since I'm now in a small enough place that everyone has no choice other than spending time with everyone else I can avoid that stupidity but I still see it on occasion when the company I work for takes jobs from some large multi-nationals - I get to see a little window into full-on Dilbert territory. Things like meetings where eight people from the other company turn up but only two speak, who get left floundering with no backup when out of their depth despite all the others there.

Anonymous Coward | 11 hours ago | (#47588747)

Re:partly as a result, work culture is also haphaz (4, Interesting)

You forgot to mention that no one takes meeting minutes or notes. Thus any decisions made are lost two steps out the door. Which in turn requires future follow up meetings to re-decide/debate the same issues. I've seen heated discussions over issues that were already resolved in a prior meeting.

Thiarna (111890) | 12 hours ago | (#47588555)

No thought required (5, Interesting)

I find in most business cultures I've had contact with that actually spending time to think about a problem is actively discouraged. Problems get bounced from one person to the next, and the actual work performed by any one person on something is so limited that often no-one understands the full problem. The always connected culture described in the article is part of the problem, but more fundamentally it is that there is such the constant stream of email with so little thought put into it

CptJeanLuc (1889586) | 7 hours ago | (#47589771)

Counter-productive American work culture (3, Interesting)

From working from Europe in a global organization a few years ago, it was interesting to see how American colleagues always seem to be projecting the importance of their work and their persona, with an always-on mindset. And it was interesting how emails got answered in the late evening US time zones, with replies that were clearly in the style of "I want you to know that I read your email and am working in the evening", but with no real effort behind the response. And with silly emails like "going away with family on vacation for two days, so I will be reading email less frequently" - dude, why are you checking your emails on a vacation.

Furthermore, US colleagues often seemed obsessed about strengthen their own work position, paranoid about any initiative which may reduce their importance, and generally working relations and politics to make themselves as hard-to-fire as possible. Some people clearly playing their own agenda not really caring about what is right for the company. And creating as little transparency as possible about information they own, making it hard to objectively assess their performance, or replace them with someone else. The kind of person who will do what they are asked, and little else.

In Scandinavia, my experience is we tend to focus on getting sh%# done, and nobody really cares when you do it. In most work environments people are not expected to be always-on, and we embrace the idea that it is good for people to be able to take some weeks vacation once in a while. Plus with public welfare systems - yes, the dreaded "socialism" - you don't have to be overly paranoid about the consequences of losing your job.

One of the most effective tools I have had in terms of time management, is that whenever someone has asked me something with a questionable or unreasonable timeline, I have questioned the time frame and discussed what are actual requirements - and usually there is no problem shifting the timeline to something reasonable. Just because someone asks, that does not mean you have to say yes. There is nothing worse than under-delivering. It is better both for yourself, and for whomever is asking, to push back and find something that works - and then deliver a quality end product. Or some times reducing the scope - someone asks for a big presentation, which you know they may end up changing everything - and you agree on instead making a rough draft and storyline. So you just saved yourself a ton of work, and all it took was 2 minutes of intelligent discussion.

As for changing the culture, I'd say just take a position regarding how and when you plan to work, and let your colleague and peers know. Or at least discuss what is the expectation in terms of work commitments. So they will not be expecting an always-on mindset. In the end, if you keep delivering your stuff, I would think that is what matters.

[Aug 22, 2013] The Rise of Bullshit Jobs

naked capitalism

Goin' South:

Again, Graeber has managed to peel the onion to find a very sensitive layer of fundamental beliefs and attitudes, thereby provoking what promises to be a great discussion. I hope he drops by to engage.

My overall impression of your piece, Yves, is that you misperceive Graeber's point to some extent. As you recount some of your own job history, I don't think Graeber would ever call delivering newspapers a "bullshit job" (though it might depend on the newspaper). Consulting, on the other hand… And how could he disagree that even bullshit jobs can lead to insights that lead to very meaningful work, like writing important books and running great blogs?

He's talking about the real social utility of jobs, not their social status or intellectual content.

Likening Graeber to some dandy was off-base, though. He comes from a working class background and doesn't even carry an Ivy pedigree. Field work as an anthropologist is hardly like playing croquet or polo. Writing a book like Debt may not be mining coal, but as you well know, it's not lounging on the deck of your crewed yacht either.

I take his piece as part evangel for those who feel their professional/management jobs are bullshit and part prod to the rest of us to think about the relationship between work and being human. The prod part is clearly working.

Robert Dudek:

I do not feel you have represented Graeber's view in full. His test for a bullshit job is what would happen if that job disappeared in a puff of smoke. Doctors would be missed; telemarketers not at all.

Your paper delivery job is one that DG would regard as non-bullshit because it does add value to others. No service job that provides a needed service is regarded by DG as a BS job. And it is far from accurate to say that the BS jobs are low paying jobs. Near the top of DG's list is hedge fund managers.

Yves Smith:

Not true.

The telemarketing job I had was essential to the sales of the business I was working for at the time. I did a second telemarketing job (different company) that took the better part of six weeks obtaining information to develop a cost adjustment for Federal payments to Legal Aid offices.

As much as I despise it as intrusive, telemarketing is a sales channel. It's an alternative to direct mail. It's way way overdone these days to the point of making it a useless channel, but no sales and marketing, no business for many businesses. The junk mail in my inbox is similar. As much as I hate that too, I actually do get occasional useful offers, and in the last year, I bought one product (not cheap either) that I learned about solely by virtue of a junk mail message.

So your and Graeber's hostility to telemarketers is based on being imposed on by them, not on their value to businesses. I gotta tell you they are still important to businesses, and if they were made to go poof, they'd need to find other ways to reach consumers (door to door? I used to sell newspaper subscriptions door to door. Would you rather have THAT? Or network marketing, like the way they sell Tupperware and back in the day, insurance, aluminum siding, encyclopedias? Having your un or underemployed friends hit you up personally to buy stuff? I tell you, you might come to yearn for the days of telemarketers if that was foisted on you)

Similarly, pension fund investors would disagree with you and Graeber all day. They deem many hedge fund strategies to be essential both from a diversification and an asset class perspective. You may disagree, but you are not the customer. If customers deem it to be essential, who are you to second guess? The enterpreneur's definition of what it takes to have a business is customers.

Now I personally don't think hedgies are that valuable. I think you could get rid of 2/3 of them and we'd have an increase in societal value. Ditto telemarketers. But the fact that there are too many of something and most of it is done badly or for self serving motives does not render something to be bullshit. There are too many actors too. In fact, the creative activities that Graeber celebrates already have too many people who want to engage in them. That's why they have power law payoffs. The few at the top really rake it in, but when you get below that, there are so many willing to do it for so little (some for true love of the discipline, others out of the fantasy that they'll be the next Tom Cruise/Julia Roberts, and the fallback is making a hundred thousand a year on TV commercials) that people on the bottom rungs will work for nothing or close to nothing.

And I have to tell you, the way medicine is practiced in the US, much of it is bullshit. Mammograms. PSA tests. The use of MRIs as diagnostic tools for orthopedic surgery (you will inevitably find all sort of abnormal-looking stuff in an MRI, an MRI can be used to justify all kinds of dubious orthopedic surgeries). Why do you think the US medical system is so overpriced? Go read Maggie Mahar's Money Driven Medicine. The short answer is that US doctors way overtest and overtreat because they are on a piecework system. Our lousy and high cost health care admin isn't the biggest culprit, it's our treatment regime.

Goin' South:

I think you're still missing the point, Yves.

"The telemarketing job I had was essential to the sales of the business I was working for at the time."

The point is not whether the job is useful to the business. The people who sit in a medical insurance company cubicle all day denying claims are useful to the business. They produce negative social utility.

Yes, Graeber is poking a bit at anything related to advertising, but in general, he's right. We'd be better off without it, just as we'd be better off without hedge fund managers and Goldman CEOs and white shoe law firm lawyers.

TimR:

Contra Yves (though she makes good points) I think it is the "content" of the jobs that's bullshit. Many people are employed to enforce and maintain the pyramid hierarchy. The top 20%, say, are all about (in a big brush sense) enforcing the status quo, and spreading bullshit over everything.

Media. Finance. Academia. Agriculture. Science (corrupted by money and service to power.) Pharma. MIC and Security. Medicine. Insurance. So all that white collar stuff. Then all their "cube farm" peons (so the rest of the top 50%.) Then, the people on the very bottom, blue collar and services, do useful work for all of society.

Susan the other:

The MBS "trustees" seem to have been in on the securitization scam from the beginning. Most of them are banks. The banks put together the securities, failed to securitize them, and sold them to investors with a trustee in place who wouldn't blow their cover because that trustee was another big bank doing the exact same thing. I mean, how can that many "trustees", possible all (100% of them?), have screwed up all of the securitizations? There doesn't seem to be a single "trustee" out there who wanted to put the notes in the trusts. The question why? needs to be investigated. But it will never happen. Because the entire securitization industry is bullshit. Or probably laundering money.

sgt_doom :

Overall I agree with Ms. Smith's posting and comments, but fundamentally disagree with her about hedge funds.

Hedge funds are inherently about speculation, and one of the few things Adam Smith and I are in agreement about is our antipathy to speculators.

Hedge funds, private equity leveraged buyout firms, and jobs offshoring are the three principal ways they have dismantled the American economy while enriching themselves!

olcar:

It's the zero-sum nature of a job when looked at as a part of the system as a whole that makes it BS – advertising, telemarketing, consulting, lawyering, human resources, finance all fit that mold potentially. (Not to say that the socially useful levels for these activities are zero, just much much lower than they are today.)

political economist:

Thank you for making this point. IF this is not Graeber's point it certainly was a major theme of Baran and Sweezy's Monopoly Capital. Capital is corrupting large [number of people] by forcing people to be wage slaves.

This was true from the beginning as Michael P highlights in his book but also today. BUT the point is not just that the workplace and work are unsatisfying, but that the work is irrationally driven by profit not by human needs and fundamental desires.

Wars, destruction of the environment, imprisonment and other forms of social control are all related to the concept of "bullshit jobs" – or whatever you want to call the work a majority of people do.

Psychologists may be able to put people into different categories but creativity is not genetic. People come alive when given opportunites!

Clive:

I think it was Yves who mused a little while back "just what people will be expected to do to pleasure our new overlords" (that's not an exact quote, but gives the gist).

I'm of an age and of a position to not need to worry too much. Like Ina's experience in the above, I am lucky enough to quit the system and get by if I have to. But what of the next generation, mired in debt and subject to the extraction by the multitude of licensed protection racket players in healthcare, finance, education or housing ? How can they ever get ahead ?

There's a story making the news here in the UK about how an intern basically worked himself to death doing his stint in one of the big banks (apologies, don't have the link to hand). Poor chap; he is unfortunately only the first of many.

nonclassical:

…isn't it the switch from manufacturing based economy (no panacea for workforce) to paper debt (Hudson-Black-Kevin Phillips) that is involved in all this angst? 2001, "financial services" amounted to 19% of U.S. economic activity=profit$…by 2007, 41%.

Blame for this fact (Phillips-"American Dynasty"-"American Theocracy") involves those who benefitted from transition…Bush I was uncomfortable with said transition…Phillips shows what has happened historically-Spain, Netherlands, Britain, all suffered economic fallout.

Capitalism today is rushing towards ever worse-marginalizing workers as CONTRACT WORKERS-to even avoid employee status-avoiding healthcare mandates, overtime, HR necessities, vacation or travel expenses for employer, etc, etc…pay to be nothing but % of profit$ generated…

..think it's bad now..?

Phillips does discuss ("American Dynasty") contrast between Bush I economic history and "W"-first ever "MBA" president=financialized mentality…neither Bush I nor his cohort-lawyer James Baker were pleased with "W"-Cheney economics…attempted on several occasions to put Middle-East (after Iraq invasion) back to "bidness"…

Let's remember Kevin Phillips was Nixon's Krauthammer…

Montanamaven:

My reading of Graeber's work, especially "Revolutions in Reverse" (free on line), one of his central themes is that for hundreds of years we have things backwards. Our priority has been making stuff for humans rather than having as our primary task, the nurturing of humans and the planet. This is also a theme of John Perkins in his books. He tells the South American story of the Eagle People and the Condor People. The Eagle People build machines that conquer the earth while the Condor people care for the earth and all living things. For the last 400 years it is the Eagle People who have dominated.

We have a chance, it is told in legend, to unite the two and have them more in balance. The central theme of what kind of system should we have is what Graeber writes about.

He asks us to think of an alternative to TINA; he asks us to change the story. It is basically a feminist perspective, he says. Most people yearn for meaning in their day to day lives.

Children of the wealthy and the bourgeoisie get to have jobs in the arts and non-profits, he notes. While working class children lately have turned to the military to find work with purpose. The I.W.W. (the Wobblies) lobbied for shorter work days rather than more pay. In leisure a person can create whether it is shish kabob, a song, or talk of revolution. The powers that be do not want us to have leisure. They prefer to negotiate wages and thus keep control of our time. (Trying to remember where I read this theory. But one place, oddly enough, was "Faces Along the Bar" a history of the saloon from the 1880s to 1920s. ).

Without going into too much detail, I work in the movie/television industry. My job could be eliminated if movie studios and producers shared the profits with the actors and the crew. But that doesn't happen, so ergo the middleman. I personally would be happy to go back into the actual creative side from whence I came.

But I worried about growing old and needed to pay the rent. If we knew we would be taken care of in old age what interesting lives we all might be able to lead.

ambrit:

Dear scott; Around here, the Deep South, drive by shootings, rarer here out in the country than urban environments, (a function of population density?) do happen. Usually the result of inter group status competitions or "recreational pharmaceutical" sales competition. I'd suggest that a bit more 'focused' idleness, as in non-violent conflict resolution training, would be a very socially positive outcome. How to accomplish that? Well, the traditional methods were woven into the social fabric: churches, family, extended kinship groups, and good old fashioned group play among kiddies. The best way, to my thinking, to learn to navigate a social group, is to be involved in one. The present atomization of our culture is producing the precisely opposite result. All politics is local. So, drive by shooting could be framed as a manifestation of "local politics" by other means. BTW, what happened to the "Confirm You Are Not A Spammer" box?

YankeeFrank:

I don't think you are getting the point of what a bullshit job is Yves. A bullshit job is not janitor or whatever other job some might consider "lowly". A bullshit job is one that adds nothing to the satisfaction of human needs and desire. Telemarketing is a bullshit job because if telemarketers disappeared tomorrow the world would not miss them. That's why Graeber uses as his primary example the corporate lawyer. The reason we don't have more leisure time, and rest assured most of us DO want more leisure time, is because so many of us are caught up in bullshit work that doesn't do anything to provide for the needs, or even the desires, of humanity. If someone loves PR than by all means, go for it. But most people who work in what I'll call the meaningless professions don't really like them. And of those that do, I'd say at least some of them are suffering from a work ethic form of Stockholm Syndrome - getting pleasure out of work simply because it validates that they are not layabout losers.

You may think that it is classist to desire leisure time. I think that for most people who don't really like the work they do, they would like more leisure time to be creative, relax, hang out with their families or friends, get into a hobby, learn something new… whatever. As long as its not that damn job. And I didn't take Graeber's point to be that people should work only 15 hours per week whether they wanted to work more or not. Its about having the option. We are not all career-oriented types.

And I might object to my child cleaning her school but not because the work is lowly. Its because children have more important things to do at school than clean, and do we really want to emulate the work and community model of the Japanese after all? Children learn to clean as their parents think its important. I had many chores as a child I had to do, and so will my kids. But I don't want their schooling to be mixed up with cleaning. I have no disrespect for janitors either. I think that us middle class types can get way too defensive of the working class sometimes and see insults where they do not exist. I don't think janitors want their children spending hours of their time at school cleaning either.

You are clearly someone who loves their work. That is great. But not all of us are satisfied working 40-60 hours per week on the same set of tasks, no matter how scintillating they are. A world where we had the option of working half or less the hours is a better world. The reason we don't live in that world is because the upper classes don't want to give up their control of our lives and because there are so many outright pointless jobs.

ScottS says:

No, Graeber is making an argument on a difference in kind. Yves is making an argument on a difference in degree. Yves is correct that marketing is necessary for business, and that the unpleasantness is either necessary or, absent the rule of law, fraud. Ditto finance. I feel that Graeber is (or should be) making the argument that a vast majority of business that marketing is working for is questionable.

My gut feeling is that most jobs are in the entertainment industry whether you realize it or not (Facebook?), since technology has obviated the need for the majority of people to toil for basic needs. That's not necessarily bad. But it is quite obvious to me that we have a distribution problem - no one should starve when we have excess food.

We are in the post-scarcity phase of development, and we need to update our economic models to reflect that. Since we simply don't need the vast majority of people to toil simply to survive, why force them? It's a relic of a time when resources where scarce. Frankly, economics is the study of distributing scarce resources and has nothing to say when resources are no longer scarce. Economists are only good at manufacturing scarcity to keep their sinecures.

When I can live my whole life comfortably without a day's work, then I will have the power to dictate the terms of my employment and finally be free of the cube farm.

And for some intellectual sugar, here is a cute story about a fisherman debating a businessman on the value of a full-day's work: http://paulocoelhoblog.com/2010/09/08/the-fisherman-and-the-businessman/

nonclassical :

Yankee-"marketing" in all facets involves propaganda:

http://vimeo.com/61857758 (Adam Curtis-"The Century of Self"

"Century of Self" and "The Trap", by Adam Curtis.."Showed corporate ameriKa how to manipulate consumers"..

..difficult to separate "worker" from "consumer"…connection is integral…

John in Boulder says:

There's so much to comment on here it is daunting! To be brief, when I was working in DC it was a culture who bragged about not seeing their kids for three weeks and wouldn't leave work before 7 PM Friday for fear their money would be expropriated. Moving to Colorado, the workplaces were empty by 3 PM Friday and the folks back in DC, still at work, were wondering why no one was answering the phone at the Denver office.

When my nephew visited me in Boulder I took him to lunch and as we lingered into the afternoon he noted that most of the patrons were lingering with us and commented "I don't think anyone works here!"

My point I guess is that DC and probably NY are the worst of the culture of workaholics and the farther away you get from those places the better off you'll be. And in places like Colorado where there are other things to do, people do them. Finally, places like Boulder where you mix a high number of intellectuals and bohemians the pace of the place can be downright European.

I will definitely use Krugman's line about the French consuming vacations…

Juancito:

I used to work as a line cook at truck stop on I-25, now I do corporate law. There is no question in my mind which is the bullshit job, but at least I can take a long lunch every now and then.

The point is that bullshit isn't necessarily bad, it just is what our society values. Don't over think it, take the job if you want it. Just don't lose sight of who is really doing useful work.

Ed S.:

Workfromhome:

Spent 10 yrs in DC and now into my 8th in Silicon Valley. It's a complicated issue but I think that in industries where it's difficult to value output, there is a tendency to value input. So in DC, where it's INCREDIBLY difficult to value output, input is valued (and so people "work" absurd amounts of time - "can't really demonstrate what I do is of any value, but I put in 80 hours a week doing it")

And the expectation of constant contact: it's the new normal. It's the modeled behavior - marketed to us as the way to succeed. If you've watched Mad Men, think about people lining up for the elevator at 8:50am and 5:20pm. That schedule has gone the way of the Selectric.

How does this play out in real life? Anecdote: a former employee of mine moved to a new job and in her evaluation she was criticized for not checking her email enough WHILE ON VACATION.

Technology allows employers to "own" people in a way that hasn't been seen the heyday of the HMS Bounty.

Yes, but:

Thanks as usual for your thoughtful comments here, Yves.

I agree that an important distinction between meaningful work and bullshit work has to do with wages and conditions, not only the content, or what one is involved with producing etc.

But I think you dismiss Graeber's views too easily. To my sensibility, his perspectives are more general and philosophical, though they have lots of practical applications and possibilities. I hear his sentiments as a sort of philosophical compliment to Gar Alperovitz's work, maybe.

The point about free time isn't so much that everyone is just bursting at the seams w/ creativity, and if only they had the time to pursue their interests, like a few extra hrs per week, the world would be radically different in just a few yrs. No doubt some would start coops and write novels while others would drink more or lay around and masturbate. People are really diverse. We're capable of vast cruelty as well as amazing generosity and self sacrifice.

The interesting question is about system and institutional design: what kinds of situations encourage creativity, sharing, generosity, kindness, etc; and what encourages the opposite, or other qualities? Clearly, our system doesn't do enough to encourage the best, and often (or typically) rewards the worst. Bust the issue is about how to best tap into and encourage human potential. And it's true that, as corrupt, inefficient etc as our system is, if the rewards were distributed equally, every household of 4 could earn 100 grand per yr w/ one individual working 20 hrs per week. That's just based on GDP, which has it's problems. But the point is that the problems, even w/ this limited view, have to do with distribution, with politics, more than w/ economics per se.

In other words, it's not just about being paid more or less to telemarket or flip burgers or whatever. Wages and conditions are totally important and worth fighting for, of course. But the issue is really more fundamental, as I see it. How can we start institutions, build new corporations or community run coops or whatever that really serve society and the planet, and are truly democratic, etc. How can we build institutions that encourage solidarity, creativity, curiosity, what benefits community/ the general public etc instead of selfishness, isolation, profit etc?

When we start to consider what is a bullshit job, and what would meaningful work look like, I think we have to consider these–and other–questions.

middle seaman:

The percentage of the population producing goods has declined substantially in the developed world. Goods include not only cars and machine tools, but also TV programs. Graeber bullshit job sexist on many levels and in many sectors of the economy. Many companies have a middle manager for every 5-7 works. Managing of this sort is bullshit. A lot of consulting jobs amount to pure bullshit.

We also have endless numbers of overworked and badly paid workers. Our, US, minimum wage combined with high unemployment creates modern slave labor. It really doesn't matter whether the work is bullshit or not.

In summary, Yves' and David's perspectives don't really contradict each other. They are orthogonal and valid.

I'm not sure Graeber meant 'bullshit jobs' as you described it, that's for he put the words in quotes. He didn't mean they are 'bullshit' because of being of a low social value, but because they are made to keep people subordinate, in increasing authoritarian structures: they are essentially a means of control. That's somewhat how Foucault describes the necessity for the upper class to retain the impoverished peasants in working houses. That's also the inherent moralistic pathos which motivated the birth of the modern psychiatry: control over the worker's body.

salvo:

I'm not sure Graeber meant 'bullshit jobs' as you described it, that's for he put the words in quotes. He didn't mean they are 'bullshit' because of being of a low social value, but because they are made to keep people subordinate, in increasing authoritarian structures: they are essentially a means of control.

That's somewhat how Foucault describes the necessity for the upper class to retain the impoverished peasants in working houses. That's also the inherent moralistic pathos which motivated the birth of the modern psychiatry: control over the worker's body.

mikkel:

This is how I read him too. I find Yves anecdote about Australia puzzling.

I'm an expat American that has lived in NZ for a few years and one of the things I love about it is how little BS there is…particularly because of egalitarianism. Except for a few crusty Brits (that seem to stick around) and whingeing Yanks (who don't), nearly everyone is keen to do a practical job to either cover their basic needs or simply pass the time. There are lots of people with professional (even upper executive jobs) that get home and tend to sheep. I knew the owner of a vineyard who had one low level employee who was a nuclear scientist (from the UK) and one who was a physician.

Doing nothing, particularly going outside for a hike [tramp] is seen as sublime. It's hard to get into a conversation with a kiwi and have it not turn to tramping.

Inequality is on the rise and with that, there is apparently an increasing amount of BS, which people are concerned about. NZ (and especially OZ) have a Faustian bargain because they are intent on increasing competitiveness on the global level in order to maintain necessary imports, but globalization is so inherently BS that it conflicts with the core essence of the country.

I'm really glad that Yves pointed out how what is meaningful is personality type sensitive, which a lot of people overlook, but the common theme is that non-BS jobs are largely self directed and connect with physical or creative reality instead of paper pushing or ego stroking.

Malmo:

August 22, 2013 at 9:37 am

If I could survive comfortably on a 20 hr work week, or even less, I'd be happy as a clam. I'd have more than enough to do with my free time too, which in no way would constitute twiddling my thumbs all day, although I'd do some fo that, thank you. I'd spend much more time WORKING on gardening, socializing, running, reading, golfing, volunteering, loving my family. Also have time to reread Bob Black's "Abolition of Work", which I'm going to do right after I post this.

Goin' South

"The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time."

James Taylor

katenka

:I usually just quietly read (as a proper INTP, since the MBTI was brought into it), but this post happens to brush against my area of professional expertise, so I'll poke my head out of my hole briefly.

I write psychological assessments of candidates for hiring, promotion, and developmental work. I've done tens of thousands of these over the past twenty-odd years, which I think has given me, while not a comprehensive view, a pretty broad one across US (and, to a lesser extent, UK/European) business, and a lot of (anecdotal) data points about whether or not people perceive their jobs as being bullshit.

The upshot is, increasingly, yes, they do (especially over the past five years, whoof), and it appears to me they do so for a range of reasons that spans both Smith-esque and Graeber-esque points (within the context of this post). People - even those pretty high up the food chain - often feel moderately to completely powerless in their roles to do anything other than keep the sausage machine grinding. People are often confused or disheartened by what they are paid or incentivized to do (for example, a traffic signal engineer specialist who is now flooded with work to install surveillance cameras, for which purpose cities and towns evidently have plenty of money). And, people are sometimes (albeit considerably less routinely) concerned about the bigger, society-wide picture of what it is precisely they are wreaking upon the world.

Anyway, it adds up to a lot of anxious, demotivated people who have a hard time seeing what the point of their endeavors is beyond the immediate concerns of the task itself (even if they can articulate a plausible line of reasoning for why it is "important" - I've worked long enough in psych to know that it means pretty much precisely jack shit in and of itself when someone can articulate an intellectual line of reasoning…well, it means they're probably not hopelessly cognitively impaired).

The issue of "perceived value" that Yves brought up is important, although it is also a real hairball; one of the difficult things about people is the hall of mirrors of our highly social nature. But anyway, take the telemarketer who is perceived as a plague by whom she calls and as an asset of some sort by the company that hires her. Both views are going to leach into her - she can't help it, as a human being. If her employer starts treating her worse, perhaps even with visible contempt (more the rule than the exception these days), it's likely to tip the scales at some point. This effect is independent of whether or not telemarketing is actually valuable to the company, and whether in turn the company itself is valuable to society. If the telemarketer happens to be interested in those issues, that'll go into the mix of her overall opinion of the bullshittiness or not of her job. In practical terms, though, the personal feedback she gets from how she is treated by the people she actually interacts with is going to have a much stronger effect upon how she feels, and it's how she feels that is really what it all comes down to. Intellectual analyses or principles can and sometimes do override this emotional reality, but ye gods they have to burn bright and true to do that for long.

Also, Yves's point about empty free time that people creatively decide how to fill perhaps not being the pinnacle of human ambition is a critical one. Great swaths of empty free time is a soul-eating disaster for quite a lot of people. One can imagine a society and environment where there would be enough structure and context for people to plug into a productive endeavor of their own choosing, but that's a bit lacking at the moment (worth building, though). Oh well, lots of interesting points in this post, but I'll stop there.

Malmo:

What percentage of people work at jobs they find persoanlly fulfilling? In other words what percentage of people would choose a different profession, or even way of life, from where they are now? I'm 52 and have worked as a union carpenter, union laborer, construction superintendent, self employed contractor, high school teacher, basketball coach and a day trader. In virtually every environment of walked I'd say the majority of people were unhappy with their jobs.

You could probably number the rampant amount of social pathologies in our society as equal or greater than the number of dissatisfied workers they affect (and there is cause and effect at work here). These dissatisfied workers might not consider thier jobs bullshit jobs, but I can assure you they think they put up with way too much bullshit in having to survive by doing them.

To my mind wage slavery is bullshit, not necessarily the work itself. I had as much or more satisfaction working as a summertime carpenter as I did teaching AP History. My problem wasn't necessarily the nature of the work, but rather the hierarchical nature in which I was subordiante to a power far greater than myself–my boss– who had the ability to fuck with me and my livelihood in ways that influenced my mental and physical health in a not so positive way. I'm not alone there either. Far from it.

If we are largely what we do daily then the levels of crime, divorce, depression, suicide, anger, alcoholism, drug abuse (legal and illegal), ill health, etc., etc., can be tied to a dysfunctional economic model that materially strengthens the few on the backs and minds of the many

. Work doesn't need to go away, even so called "bullshit" work. But the nature of how we do it and who it is that lords power over us in doing it needs a radical makeover.

anon y'mouse:

"My problem wasn't necessarily the nature of the work, but rather the hierarchical nature in which I was subordiante to a power far greater than myself–my boss– who had the ability to fuck with me and my livelihood in ways that influenced my mental and physical health in a not so positive way."

yes, experienced that as well. unfortunately, some of us grew up in environments with abusive parents/step-parents who literally held the power of life and death over us on a daily basis and would show that power if they decided that they didn't like the look on your face that day.

I immediately recognize an toxic work environment for what it is-an abusive relationship.

most employment situations that I've seen have been that way. and those of us who had abuse in our pasts, as the military is currently discovering, are more prone to stress disorders, psychosomatic illnesses and PTSD. so for us, this type of power imbalance and being forced to endure is similar to torture (not to devalue the word) and antithetical to life.

Chris Sturr:

Yves cites Michael Perelman, who wrote a piece for Dollars & Sense a few years back that bears on this discussion: "The Rise of Guard Labor: How capitalists' need to controll access to goods and services–and to control workers–deforms the productive process and stifles creativity." (Available here: http://dollarsandsense.org/archives/2010/0110perelman.pdf .)

I am not sure exactly how Perelman's analysis (which draws on material from his book *The Invisible Handcuffs of Capitalism*) bears on this discussion, but at a minimum there's some overlap between what he's calling "guard labor" and what Graeber calls "bullshit jobs" (and in both cases, the categories cover high-pay/-status jobs and low-pay/-status jobs). But whereas Graeber says that there is a moral rather than an economic explanation of the rise of bullshit jobs, Perelman gives an economic explanation of the rise of guard labor. And Perelman's account (especially the section "How Rigid Control Paralyzes Creativity") gives an economic explanation of how guard labor functions to make other jobs horrible.

Are You Being Served?:

Working for a retail chain means constant stocking & restocking, putting up displays, taking down displays – all of which serves two purposes. First, but not necessarily foremost: to keep employees busy. Afterall, they're being paid by the hour. Second: to "drive sales." Yes, the "consumer" "responds" to novelty - the newest, the latest. Promotions, gimmicks, & constantly changing displays bring in & "hook" the shopper. And the shopper is often another wage slave on his or her day off. They might be upper middle class Mexican nationals here on shopping "vacations."

For many of us wage slaves, a day off or a vacation means time to either shop or sleep.

Malls close or get turned into cheap bazaars for immigrants. Mazerati dealers pop up along the freeways. Office towers & high rise condos sprout only to remain mostly unoccupied. Build it & they will come? More & more men & women appear on street corners with Help Me signs. Kids shoot each other. Prisons profit. Duck Dynasty is a huge hit.

Recycle? What's the use? Lost your health insurance because your employer cut you back to part time? Blame Obama. Capitalism may not be perfect, but it's the best we've got - right? Freedom ain't free. Support our troops. It's the Golden Age of alcohol. Hundreds of artisan beers on tap. Get out there & vote. Buy a lottery ticket. Listen to audio books on the Law of Attraction. Go on a diet. Take a yoga class. Go to the shooting range. Go vegan. Play computer games. Hey, who moved my cheese?

mary:

@Are You Being Served?

Have you read "Kingdom Come" by the late great J.G. Ballard yet? I think you'll find it satisfying. Please do give it a go.

Hugh:

I would define a bullshit job as one which had no social value, that is it did not improve the quality of our society and could even detract from it. What is the quality of our society? It is the society that we wish to build and maintain for ourselves and each other, a fair and just society based on sharing our resources so that each of us is provided with what we need for a good and meaningful life, and that we do this not just for ourselves but in a sustainable fashion so that future generations may do so as well.

We live in a kleptocracy so really all jobs are bullshit because all our work is going, not to building the society we want, but one we do not want, one which loots us and degrades us into wage and debt slavery. Sectors like financial services are incredibly destructive of our society. All jobs in this sector are bullshit because they either promote or sustain looting.

Now you could argue that while all labor in a kleptocracy is twisted into working against itself, some labor still serves some minimal social function. The farmer grows the food we need to survive. The builder builds shelter for us. The manufacturer creates the goods we need to live. But consider the farmer is most likely an employee of or contracted to some big agri-business corporation growing GMO crops or raising drug riddled livestock in factory conditions. The builder is building shoddy housing that will fall apart before the mortgage is paid off in some exurb using low wage undocumented workers wherever he/she can. The manufacturer is trying to do everything he/she can to cut the wages and benefits of their workers here and ship their jobs over to China or Bangladesh.

The truth is that bullshit jobs are a condition of consumerism. Very little is made to last. Built in obsolesence permeates all consumer goods. If it falls apart, whether clothes and shoes after a season or an iPhone every three years, then there will be built-in recurrent demand and perennial high profits.

I would go further and say that any job that doesn't pay a living wage is bullshit and wages war against a fair and just society whether it serves some social purpose or no. And looking further still, let us recognize the artificial divide between work and jobs. Jobs are usually considered paid work, but what about all the unpaid caregivers, parents, and homemakers in this country who often labor long and hard doing work of great social value. That we do not share our society's resources to take care of and compensate them for their work. Well, that is bullshit too.

[Mar 11, 2013] The masochistic work culture of Wall Street by John Gapper

March 11, 2013 | FT

The article by Erin Callan, former chief financial officer of Lehman Brothers, on how she lost herself in work, is an interesting reflection not only on women on Wall Street, but also on how relentlessly many bankers work.

Ms Callan, who lost her job in 2008 "amid mounting chaos and a cloud of public humiliation only months before the company went bankrupt", writes in the New York Times of the extreme work culture at the top of the former investment bank:

"I didn't start out with the goal of devoting all of myself to my job. It crept in over time. Each year that went by, slight modifications became the new normal. First I spent a half-hour on Sunday organizing my e-mail, to-do list and calendar to make Monday morning easier. Then I was working a few hours on Sunday, then all day. My boundaries slipped away until work was all that was left.

Inevitably, when I left my job, it devastated me. I couldn't just rally and move on. I did not know how to value who I was versus what I did. What I did was who I was."

The phenomenon doesn't occur only at the top. The Epicurean Dealmaker, a pseudonymous banker who writes on the culture and mores of Wall Street, has a good description of the qualities needed in a junior analyst.

"She must be intelligent, patient, hardworking, relentless, unflappable, diplomatic, self-sacrificing, and forbearing. She must always maintain her equanimity, even in the face of a spittle-flecked Associate berating her for not correcting his misspelling of the client CFO's name in a presentation book or a Managing Director who looks at her blankly when she asks how the meeting she skipped Christmas Day with her family to prepare the book for went (the client cancelled)."

Bankers are not the only ones facing this workload. Other professionals, such as lawyers and management consultants, also charge extremely high fees, for which they put themselves at the whim of clients.

Those who reach the top get very well paid. Even those at the bottom earn – or have earned – more than anyone else of their age. But the bargain, that they have to be on call around the clock, has a price.

[Mar 9, 2013] Is There Life After Work

March 9, 2013 | NYTimes.com

AT an office party in 2005, one of my colleagues asked my then husband what I did on weekends. She knew me as someone with great intensity and energy. "Does she kayak, go rock climbing and then run a half marathon?" she joked. No, he answered simply, "she sleeps." And that was true. When I wasn't catching up on work, I spent my weekends recharging my batteries for the coming week. Work always came first, before my family, friends and marriage - which ended just a few years later.

In recent weeks I have been following with interest the escalating debate about work-life balance and the varying positions of Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Mayer of Yahoo and the academic Anne-Marie Slaughter, among others. Since I resigned my position as chief financial officer of Lehman Brothers in 2008, amid mounting chaos and a cloud of public humiliation only months before the company went bankrupt, I have had ample time to reflect on the decisions I made in balancing (or failing to balance) my job with the rest of my life. The fact that I call it "the rest of my life" gives you an indication where work stood in the pecking order.

I don't have children, so it might seem that my story lacks relevance to the work-life balance debate. Like everyone, though, I did have relationships - a spouse, friends and family - and none of them got the best version of me. They got what was left over.

I didn't start out with the goal of devoting all of myself to my job. It crept in over time. Each year that went by, slight modifications became the new normal. First I spent a half-hour on Sunday organizing my e-mail, to-do list and calendar to make Monday morning easier. Then I was working a few hours on Sunday, then all day. My boundaries slipped away until work was all that was left.

Inevitably, when I left my job, it devastated me. I couldn't just rally and move on. I did not know how to value who I was versus what I did. What I did was who I was.

I have spent several years now living a different version of my life, where I try to apply my energy to my new husband, Anthony, and the people whom I love and care about. But I can't make up for lost time. Most important, although I now have stepchildren, I missed having a child of my own. I am 47 years old, and Anthony and I have been trying in vitro fertilization for several years. We are still hoping.

Sometimes young women tell me they admire what I've done. As they see it, I worked hard for 20 years and can now spend the next 20 focused on other things. But that is not balance. I do not wish that for anyone. Even at the best times in my career, I was never deluded into thinking I had achieved any sort of rational allocation between my life at work and my life outside.

I have often wondered whether I would have been asked to be C.F.O. if I had not worked the way that I did. Until recently, I thought my singular focus on my career was the most powerful ingredient in my success. But I am beginning to realize that I sold myself short. I was talented, intelligent and energetic. It didn't have to be so extreme. Besides, there were diminishing returns to that kind of labor.

I didn't have to be on my BlackBerry from my first moment in the morning to my last moment at night. I didn't have to eat the majority of my meals at my desk. I didn't have to fly overnight to a meeting in Europe on my birthday. I now believe that I could have made it to a similar place with at least some better version of a personal life. Not without sacrifice - I don't think I could have "had it all" - but with somewhat more harmony.

I have also wondered where I would be today if Lehman Brothers hadn't collapsed. In 2007, I did start to have my doubts about the way I was living my life. Or not really living it. But I felt locked in to my career. I had just been asked to be C.F.O. I had a responsibility. Without the crisis, I may never have been strong enough to step away. Perhaps I needed what felt at the time like some of the worst experiences in my life to come to a place where I could be grateful for the life I had. I had to learn to begin to appreciate what was left.

At the end of the day, that is the best guidance I can give. Whatever valuable advice I have about managing a career, I am only now learning how to manage a life.

Erin Callan is the former chief financial officer of Lehman Brothers.

[Oct 19, 2012] Google's Engineers Are Well Paid, Not Just Well Fed

October 18, 2012 | Slashdot

"According to a study by the career site Glassdoor, Google tops the list of tech companies in the salaries it pays to software engineers. Google paid its engineers an average base salary of $128,336, with Microsoft coming in second at $123,626. Apple, eBay, and Zynga rounded off the top 5."Anonymous Coward

Re:$128,000?

writes: on Thursday , @12:38PM (#41694241) I make more than $40k as a software developer, but it wasn't too long ago that I was making right around that amount.

I have an AAS (not a fancy degree, if you didn't already know), my GPA was 2.8, and I assure you that neither of those things has EVER come up in a job interview. I'm also old enough that my transcripts are gone. (Schools only keep them for about 10 years. After that, nobody's looking anyway.)

The factors that kept me from making more are:

So when I did finally land a programming job, it was as a code monkey in a PHP sweatshop. The headhunter wanted a decent payout, so I started at $40k. No raises. Got laid off after a year and a half due to it being a sweatshop and I had outstayed my welcome. (Basically, I wanted more money and they didn't want to give me any more money.)

Next job was a startup. Still $40k. Over 2.5 years, I got a couple of small raises. I topped out at $45k-ish before I got laid off during the early days of the recession.

Next job was through a headhunter again. I asked for $50k, but the employer could only go $40k. After 3 years and a few raises, I'm finally at $50k.

I could probably go to the larger employers in this city and make $70k, but that's really the limit in this area. Nobody in this line of work makes more than about $80k here.

aralin

Not accurate, smaller companies pay more

This survey must be only talking about companies above certain size. Our Sillicon Valley startup has about 50 employees and the average engineering salaries are north of $150,000.

Large companies like Google actually don't have to pay that much, because the hours are more reasonable. I know there are other companies too that pay more than Google in the area.


Re:Not accurate, smaller companies pay more (Score:4, Interesting)
by MisterSquid (231834) writes: on Thursday October 18, @11:16AM (#41693121)
Our Sillicon Valley startup has about 50 employees and the average engineering salaries are north of $150,000.

I suppose there are some start-ups that do pay developers the value of the labor, but my own experience is a bit different in that it was more stereotypical of Silicon-Valley startup compensation packages.

That is, my salary was shamefully low (I was new to the profession), just about unlivable for the Bay Area, and was offset with a very accelerated stock options plan.

MisterSquid

$128,000?

According to an online Cost of Living Comparison Tool Tool [bestplaces.net], if I wanted to accept a job at Google they'd need to more than double my salary.

I think comparison tools are very inaccurate about what things actually cost and obscure the value of things that are usually summed up with the phrase "quality of life".

I live and work in SF after having come from Athens, OH, and your comparison tool is telling me that if I moved this year I would need need 117% more money [bestplaces.net] than I did in Athens. I actually make about fifty percent more than I did when I lived in Ohio and I have much more money than I did when I lived in Ohio.

More importantly, there are some things no amount of personal compensation could provide: ethnic diversity, world class cuisine, sublime landscape, beautiful weather year round, municipal infrastructure (no boil orders for septically contaminated water), and a dozen other things even 50 years of economic development could not deliver to places like the one I lived in in Ohio.

"Cost" of living is not just about money and direct comparisons based on money equivalence don't capture the whole picture.

ltsmash

Are they really well paid?

I'm not so sure that these engineers are very well paid. Last year, Apple CEO Tim Cook was awarded $378 million in compensation. According to the above survey, the average software engineer at Apple makes $114,413 a year. In order to make the same amount as the CEO, the engineer would have to work 3300 years. So let's ask the question: When would the engineer have had to start working in order to have the same amount of money as the CEO? The engineer's first day of work would be 1300 years before Jesus of Nazareth would be born. And keep in mind this is an engineer. Consider junior level employees. According to an article by the New York Times, a salesman working at an Apple store makes about $11.25 an hour.

He would make the same amount as the CEO in about 16 thousand years -- that would put his first day of work well into the stone age -- if you're a creationist, his work time would be longer than the age of the universe.

neurovish

That sounds about normal

$128,336 in San Francisco equates to about $65k when cost of living is adjusted to the US average (specifically Raleigh, NC...it was the most average I could think of and is pretty close). I'm sure there is some flexibility in those numbers, but I don't know of anywhere in the bay area that isn't well above the national average.

kye4u

PhD's Google Employs

Considering the number of Phd's and M.S. graduates that Google employs versus Microsoft, it stands to reason that the average salary would be higher. As others have mentioned, when you factor cost of living, hours worked, and the degree employees hold, 128K doesn't go very far. Also in Washington State (where Microsoft is located), there is no state tax

When the median home price in Mountain View is over a million and the cost for a decent 2 bed/bath apartment is 3k/month, your dollar doesn't go to far.

Vince6791

still not bad same as the 1990's

Oh please, even for California that is a lot of money. With taxes taken out you get about $5700 a month, about $66.80 an hour gross $35.62 an hour net. Your telling me you can't find an apartment for $1400 - $2000 anywhere in California. The highest I ever got was $18(working 9-5, actually 7-6, 7-9, 7-12, 6-9, time and half only) an hour gross comes to about $11.63 an hour net, $1860 a month. NY taxes are freaking high. You can get a shitty roach infested single apartment here in ny queens, brooklyn, bronx for $1100-1300 no utilities included, 2 bedroom $1800-$2000 in queens.

Basement apartments are now $900 a month and still rising. Yes, expenses are up, wages and salaries are down.

In the 1990's an engineer with a E.E. got started with $120k a year. These days hard work and experience means shit, but if you have a degree with no experience and not a very hard worker you get paid like a king.

MaWeiTao

Salary Inflation

I think a very important caveat here is that Glassdoor is a job search site. And like every job search site I've ever seen who posts average or median salaries they tend to inflate them. They'll claim the average income for a designer in NYC, for example, is $100k a year. Then you look at the job listings for the same position and you're lucky if they break $70k.

Their entire business model is based on getting people to look for work, so of course they're going to do whatever they can to make you believe everyone is earning more than you are.

[Sep 01, 2012] Work-Related Stress

1999

Recently, the commander of Canada's military, Lt.-Gen. Romeo Dallaire, left his work to be treated for post-traumatic stress disorder. He says he didn't lose his ability to cope until two years after the mission to Rwanda, when he became suicidal.

"Sometimes I wish I'd lost a leg," he says on a video produced for counselling of soldiers. "You lose a leg, it's obvious and you've got therapy and all kinds of stuff. You lose your marbles ... very, very difficult to explain, very difficult to gain the support that you need."

This military commander's testimony lends credibility to the crushing effects of post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, which arises from experiencing one or more extraordinarily horrific and life-threatening events.

By contrast, teachers' stress typically arises gradually over many years, resulting in accumulative stress disorder or ASD-commonly called burn-out or exhaustion. Recently a teacher of 22 years described it this way: "I'm not sleeping through, waking in the night with panic attacks, loss of memory, on edge at home and school, mind racing. Calmed myself with a few drinks in the evening; that made me more edgy, so I quit that. I'm getting more and more distant from my wife and kids, and I'm burnt out of my career. I don't even know who I am anymore."

What major factors contribute to teachers' accumulative stress? Take an idealistic, mission-oriented teacher who tries to meet everybody's needs; place this teacher in a hurried, time-bound, ever-evolving school system that can ask for the best on the one hand, and can erode character and destroy trust on the other; set the school system in communities and among families who question authority; and add the aging process and the family life events that will inevitably occur with that teacher. The result: numbers of teachers experience the extreme effects of accumulative stress on themselves, their work and, eventually, on their families.

As a counsellor with NSTU, I am privileged to meet some of the most dedicated teachers in Nova Scotia. Unfortunately, by the time I meet them in counselling, they are often extremely exhausted, suffering from ASD. This is understandable, for as General Dallaire says, "You lose a leg, it's obvious." ASD creeps up. Teachers lose their energy, their sleep, their desire and capability to care, their identity as a good teacher. They wait and wait, hoping the next weekend, holiday or vacation will fully restore them. Their families and friends share the burden. Sometimes it is only when these teachers notice the effects on their families and friends that they take corrective action.

Without breaching confidentiality, this article gives voice to exhausted, disheartened teachers and the effects of accumulative stress on their families. These teachers offer a message of courage for us all.

As teachers gradually accumulate stress, families can lose teachers to teaching. A husband stands at the back door on August 20 with the family pet beside him. His wife, a teacher, is going to school to set up her classroom. He mutters to the dog, "Say good-bye to her, Skippy. That's the last we'll see of her until next July 1."

Just as family stress goes to school with teachers, so too does work-related stress, and no scalpel exists that could divide the stress created in the two main centres of our lives.

Teachers express stress many ways in families. Consider the following:

"And you can forget about sex till March break," declared one teacher to her chagrined husband. "Too many students, reports and meetings to focus on anything else."

"So Dad, why are you so grouchy when you come home from school?" a 12-year-old daughter asks her father, a teacher of 28 years. "Mom tells me to go to my room and stay out of your way."

Does teaching in today's school affect teachers' home life more than in past years? Many teachers would say, "Yes, definitely." One male high school teacher aptly explains, "I'm overwhelmed with kids' problems. They're dealing with probation, pregnancy, drugs, you name it. The system is designed to burn you out if you're too conscientious in care of the kids. It's stacked against you. You can't do the job the way you know is best for the kids. I know I was a good teacher. I don't know any more if I can even be a decent husband or father."

Teachers commonly describe the burden of guilt and neglect of their own families. "I put more time and effort into my students than into my own children. And when I do spend time with my kids, I'm often correcting their behaviour and trying to control them to live up to my perfectionist standards. Is it possible to just enjoy my own kids?" asks one beleaguered teacher.

The stress on the family can become extreme when sick leave has been used up. One anxious teacher put it this way, "I just don't know how we're going to manage while waiting for the salary continuation decision. And if it doesn't come through, I'm just going to have to go back to the classroom, even if it ruins my health for life. My family depends on my income; I have no choice."

Of course, some of the effect of teachers' work stress on their families is inevitable. As caring persons, teachers take students' needs to heart and may be unaware of the costs of caring. Teachers may minimize the costs of work-related stress on families and glibly accept the cost as "part of the price of doing a good job." For the idealistic teacher, "caring too much" is an oxymoron.

For the exhausted teacher, "caring too much" smacks of reality. And the threat of breakdown of health, or of couple and family relationships, is often the bell that tolls the heavy cost of teachers' accumulative stress. As one teacher observed, "I didn't know my partner meant so much to me till we temporarily separated. It's funny too-the first time in years that I told my kids how much they meant to me was when I was down and out. I'm reunited with my partner now, so I guess this work exhaustion had a silver lining for me with my family."

Teachers daily walk the shoreline of social change, where past ways of thinking and relating meet future ways of doing and being. This presents both danger and opportunity: the danger of losing values of the past, and the opportunity of participating in co-creating the future. Travelling this shoreline throughout a teaching career requires a delicate balance.

Teaching entails a great deal of planning for tomorrow and evaluating yesterday. Hence, for teachers it's a struggle to live "today." While evaluating students' work, teachers are implicitly evaluating themselves, and often coming out feeling they are less than superb. This can induce considerable self-pressure. By comparison, most of the working public undergo only annual performance evaluations.

Since most teachers want to create both healthy families and healthy school environments, how can teachers reduce work-related stress in their homes and foster healthy work-styles in their schools?

First, recognize accumulative stress as a reality. Don't wait for the possible breakdown of health or couple-family relationships to toll your alarm bell. Refuse to live at work. Limit your work time by your energy level and the clock, not by the time demands of the task.

Contribute to healthy work styles among staff. Support time for self-care, setting limits and saying "no" as warranted. Share resources, ideas and mutual appreciation.

Here are four suggestions from teachers recovering from exhaustion.

Teachers often describe the peak of accumulative stress as a breakdown. Later in the healing process, they may describe it as a breakthrough. It's a breakthrough to choose a liveable balance of work and play, family life and school life. It's a breakthrough to the courage to be.

Peter Mullally is a Therapist of Counselling Services at the Nova Scotia Teachers Union.

[OPE] Guard Labor by Michael Perelman

Jan 23, 2010 | dollarsandsense.org

My article on Guard Labor is in the new issue of Dollars and Sense. It is extracted from my forthcoming book, The Invisible Handcuffs.

dollarsandsense.org

The article begins:

Guards are everywhere in a capitalist economy. A few are dressed up in uniforms, so they are easy to spot. But most do not look like guards at all. Some sit in comfortable offices; others work on assembly lines in factories. James O'Connor, a prolific sociologist from UC Santa Cruz, describes one familiar set of guards whom we do not usually think of as guards:

Consider the labor of the ticket seller at a movie house. The seller's task is merely to transfer the right to sit in the theater to the movie-goer in exchange for the price of a ticket. But it may not be immediately obvious that it is not the lack of a ticket that keeps you out of the theater ... The ticket is actually torn up and discarded by a husky young man who stands between the box office and the seat that I want.

These guards are a central feature of capitalism. Capitalists depend upon guard labor to protect their commodities, including the goods and premises they own, but especially the labor-power in their employ. Capitalism's reliance on guard labor deforms the entire productive process, not only wasting labor, but also snuffing out badly needed creativity.

-- Michael Perelman

Economics Department

California State University Chico, CA 95929

530 898 5321

fax 530 898 5901

http://michaelperelman.wordpress.com

[Apr 24, 2002] Is Programming a Dead End Job

April 24, 2002 | Slashdot

Not always true (Score:4, Insightful)
by kaladorn on Thursday April 25, @03:41PM (#3411001)
(User #514293 Info | http://slashdot.org/)

My boss (our VP and I think CTO) is the developer of utmost Deep Magic. But of course, we're a relatively small company.

But to take the other side of the coin up, I know of developers who made more than their managers (as one of my classmates ascended to management, I know several of the lead developers were making significantly more than he was).

There are two or three GOOD reasons why managers make the big bucks. In theory, they are the RESPONSIBLE ones. The buck stops there. Programmers can often excuse problems as being the result of other people's work, their deadlines, etc. But a manager has no such refuge. That responsibility should be commensurately rewarded.[1]

Also note that some highly paid programmers who make more than their management treat their management like inferiors. I've seen this. At the end of the day, some of the geek community only respect salary or other raw displays of power and authority. Sad but true.

Lastly, good managers are worth their weight in gold and do significantly benefit a project. They coordinate people, resources, and customers. They manage customer expectations, attend to the wellbeing of their managed, and ensure that all required resources are forseen and in place when required.[1].

So even though the comment about programmers not getting paid more than managers has exceptions, there are some good reasons for things to be as they are.

[1] - I know very damn well that the theory often doesn't match practice. For some reason, many companies keep inept management in place, I suspect because the next management level up is equally inept. I've had precisely three fair to okay managers, 1 really great manager, and several of the nightmarishly inept variety. But why companies keep incompetent managers in positions of power despite all the damage this causes is an utterly separate issue from the reasons why managers are paid more than programmers. Valid, but different.

Cliff said it all (Score:3, Insightful) by Havokmon (rickNO@SPAMhavokmon.com) on Thursday April 25, @02:36PM (#3410478)
(User #89874 Info | http://www.havokmon.com/ | Last Journal: Thursday September 27, @05:18PM) <
People who are in this career for the money or the prestige may not like it after a while, but the people who are in this for something else will tolerate quite a bit before deciding to opt out.

And is exactly why Loki lasted as long as it did..

Re:Cliff said it all by hendridm (Score:1) Thursday April 25, @02:40PM
No way (Score:4, Insightful)
by dciman (kybwilli@indiana.edu) on Thursday April 25, @02:37PM (#3410485)
(User #106457 Info | http://php.indiana.edu/~kybwilli/)

I think that programming is by NO means a dead end. Sure there is a bit of a tough time right now with the economy in its current state. But, we are just now seeing an emergence of whole new computational fields. These mainly being in the life sciences arena. Genomic sequencng projects are quickly overloading scientists with raw data that someone needs to turn into usefull information. The area of developing these tools is vast.

Possibly more important will be people who come up with better algorythms for predicting protein structre and interactions based on sequences. This is an amazing field that has the promise of keeping computre scientists, biologists, and bioinformatics people busy for decades to come. I think the field is ready to make leaps and bounds.... and most definitly not a dead end.

[Aug 25, 2001] Stress hits Swedes in IT jobs - Tech News - CNET.com

Swedes working in information technology, which has gone from boom to bust in the past two years, are off sick more often than people employed in all other sectors except health care, new data showed Friday.

A study made by insurance group Alecta found a skyrocketing frequency of sick leave, especially among highly paid women.

"The IT sector may soon be suffering from as many sick-leave absences as health care," Alecta said in a statement.

Its data covered 620,000 people, or roughly one-seventh of Sweden's labor force.

"We can also see that sick leave has increased most among women. The rise is remarkably high, particularly for well-paid women," Birgitta Rolander, head of Alecta's health and welfare department, said in the statement.

Stress and depression were the most common reasons for Swedes' sick leave in the first half of 2001, while absenteeism due to burn-out had declined compared with January-June 2000, the data showed.

[Aug 03, 2001] IT staff cracking up under pressure By James Middleton

VNUnet.com

IT managers may well be on the brink of burn-out, according to research which found that many technical staff are being pushed beyond the limits in terms of working hours.

The results found that a quarter of IT managers work a 60-hour week, which represents almost four hours overtime per day. Also, 90 per cent of IT managers typically exceed the 48-hour working week set out by the European Working Time Directive.

Government sector workers are hardest hit, with 100 per cent of respondents working above and beyond the call of duty. Retail was second worst with 93 per cent working overtime, followed closely by the education, finance, manufacturing and hi-tech sectors.

The main reason behind the extra hours was a lack of resources, according to 28 per cent of the respondents. Another 22 per cent said that the pressure of development work accounted for extra time, with 10 per cent highlighting unrealistic deadlines as a major problem. A further 14 per cent said that they were expected to be available for out of hours support calls.

David Godwin, vice president of strategy at Attenda, the internet outsourcing company responsible for the research, said that "UK companies needed to adopt a 24-hour culture if they were to succeed in the internet economy".

But he added that the UK was going about it the wrong way by putting the "responsibility for maintaining a 24-hour presence onto in-house IT departments on top of already heavy workloads".

Almost all IT managers in the south of England, excluding those in London, said they were affected by extra working hours, with the next worst spot being the Midlands. Around 86 per cent of London managers said they were affected, with 75 per cent in Scotland and 71 per cent in the north of England.

Godwin likened the IT manager working day to that of a junior doctor. "While burn-out among IT managers is not a matter of life or death, the potential to cause damage to their companies' online presence is great," he said.

[May 21, 2000] Taking the Crunch Out of Crunch Time

March 2000

Whether you call it crunch mode, ship mode or "death-march" project management, mandatory overtime is a standard industry practice. When a software development project begins to slip schedule or is faced with near-impossible delivery demands, the formulaic response is to get people to work longer hours. Before long, the project is in constant crisis, keeping people hunched over their keyboards until all hours of the night and during the weekends.

There are many ways to justify mandatory overtime. Sometimes you estimate projects incorrectly and rely on overtime to compensate for bad budgeting or bad planning. Aiming to meet unrealistic delivery dates, you push your people to their limits.

But there are alternatives to mandatory overtime, including choosing to work differently and changing the work to be completed. Understanding what precipitates the downward spiral into constant overtime will help clarify your options.

I'm Sooo Tired …

Looking at his project schedule, a manager we'll call Peter sighed and thought, "We're not going to make it. We're supposed to freeze the code in two weeks, test for another four weeks and then ship. We can't be late on this project or we'll all lose our bonuses. Wait, I know-I'll get everyone to work overtime! We'll bring in dinners, and maybe even breakfasts. We'll do anything, as long as we can ship this product within two months."

Peter's staff hunkered down and heroically completed the project, putting in many hours of overtime, including nights and weekends. When they finished the project, senior management requested another project with a just-maybe-possible release date. This time the project team worked three months of overtime to make the release date. At the end of that project, a couple of people quit, but Peter and the rest of the team stayed on.

During the next year, Peter and his project team staggered from project to project, never quite doing things the way they wanted to, always in crisis mode. By the time they had released two more versions of the product, the entire original project team, including Peter, had quit. Now the company was in trouble. No one on the newly hired staff understood the product, and shortcuts taken by the original project team left the code and internal documentation indecipherable.

Most experienced managers have seen such a project death spiral. Some project managers believe they can achieve impossible deadlines just by getting people to work harder and longer hours. In fact, some management teams never learn how to prevent lurching from project to project. Their unending refrain is: "We're in a crunch. We need to stay focused and keep the pressure on."

Slow Slogging

In reality, mandatory overtime rarely helps an organization complete its projects faster. More frequently, mandatory overtime contributes to staff burnout, turnover and to higher costs in future development.

You may honestly believe that mandated overtime is helping your staff get the work done. More likely, however, you are actually encountering slow progress, as your programmers are creating more defects and much of the work that was done late at night fails to stand up to the critical light of day. If you are considering imposing mandatory overtime, first observe your project, then consider whether there are better solutions for the problem of insufficient time.

Does progress sometimes seem achingly slow, despite the long hours of work? It may be that your developers are exhausted. Over time, with too much overtime, people can get too tired to think well or to do a good job.

Fatigue builds up in many ways. Some begin to lose their social skills, becoming more irritable and difficult to handle. Some lose their problem-solving skills and start creating more problems in their code than they solve. Some people become disgusted and cynically put in their "face-time" without doing much useful work. When such telltale signs of team exhaustion appear, the overtime people are working can be making your project even later. It may be best to give everyone some time off and to return to normal workweeks.

[July 27, 1999] The High Tech Sweatshop

Comments are much more interesting than the story. The latter is kind of suspect ;-)

Slashdot

Its 4:30 am on a Friday and I just finished the last Mountain Dew. We ran out of coffee hours ago, the remains of it now black sludge at the bottom of the pot. The buildings air conditioning went off sometime the previous night and its up to almost 90 degrees in the server room. The two volunteer hackers on the staff went home after 12 hours, leaving me and the sysadmin…

This is a normal day for me.

I'm a systems engineer in the client services division of a network security software company. Basically what that means is that when networks break, I fix them.

I am 22 years old, I make a large multiple of the national average salary, and if I cashed in my stock options I could buy a very nice house. I'm also sixty pounds overweight, I sleep an average of four hours a night, and I have several ulcers. I usually spend about 60 hours a week at the office, but I'm on call 24 hours a day seven days a week. If I was honest with myself Id probably say I worked about one hundred hours last week. This is a normal life for someone working in this industry.

We live in a world today that runs on information. And people want all of it now. When was the last time you actually wrote out a personal letter to someone, on paper, in pen? Why bother when E-mail is so much faster and easier? But what goes on behind the scenes when you hit the "send" button? There are thousands of people out there just like me who have titles like "Network engineer" and "Systems administrator". We keep that information flowing, and we get paid what seems like a lot of money to do it. If you've been in the market for a good network admin lately you know what I mean. The market is pushing the salary into the 100k+ plus range for someone with the necessary experience to handle even a relatively small network, never mind what the really large companies like State Farm insurance or Wells Fargo bank have.

I started work on this problem with the sysadmin on Thursday before the close of business, getting things set up, preparing for the changes etc… The company was switching internet service providers that night because the previous one hadn't provided the level of service they needed. This entailed changing the IP addresses, and DNS configurations of every machine in the building, running three different operating systems, probably two hundred machines all told, then setting up the servers, routers, and switches necessary to get it all running. It's a big job, but with six people working on it we figured we could get it done before start of business the next day. Normally you would do this kind of thing over a weekend, but the ISP could either do the changeover tonight, or wait till next week, and we needed to be online before Monday.

Getting back to what happens when you press the send button. You expect the computer to send the message, and that the person it was sent to will receive it. What happens to the message then is an incredibly complex series of storage, sending, routing, switching, redirecting, forwarding and retrieving, that is all over in a fraction of a second, or at most a few minutes. But you don't care how or why it gets there, only that it does, and this is all you should care about. After all you don't have to know how your cars engine works in order to drive it right. But someone has to know in case it breaks. And when your email breaks you expect someone to fix it. It doesn't matter what time it is, or where the message is being sent, you want it to get there now.

Its now 8 am and the network is still down. We've managed to isolate a routing problem and are in the process of fixing it. The ISP gave us the wrong IP addresses and now we have to go back and redo all two hundred machines in the building. The router was crashing and we couldn't figure out why. Two hours on the phone with the vendors support, and three levels of support engineer later we fix it. People are starting to come in to work and ask why they can't get their email. The changeover process takes us about three hours and finally everyone has the right IP, but things still aren't working right. A bunch of people use DHCP for their laptops and the DHCP people cant get out to the net. The CEO of the company is one of those people…

So what do we do? Well we hire people to take care of the network. And we give them benefits and pay like any normal employee. We also give them pagers, cell phones, a direct phone lines to their houses so that any time, any where, we can get them, because the network could go down, and we DEPEND on that network, and those people. This is where things go skew from the normal business model.

All compensation is basically in exchange for time. The only thing humans have to give is their time. When I pay you a salary it is in exchange for me being able to use your abilities for a certain period of time every year. The assumption is that the more experienced or knowledgeable you are the more your time is worth. This works fine when you are being paid a wage, but salaried employees aren't. They exist under the polite fiction that all their work can be done in a forty hour period every week, no matter how much work there is. We all know this isn't the case of course. And when it comes to Systems administrators and network engineers that polite fiction isn't so polite. In exchange for high salaries and large stock options the company owns you all day and all night, every day and every night. You are "Mission critical". High salaries become an illusion because when it gets down to it your hourly rate isn't much better than the assistant manager of the local Pep Boys.

I finally went home at 1 that afternoon. I couldn't stay awake any more and if I didn't leave right then I wouldn't have been able to drive home. The funny thing is I felt guilty for leaving. Things still weren't working quite right, and I felt like I should have stayed until they were. Even funnier is that I volunteered for this. The only part of the job that I actually had to do was to change a few IP addresses and configure the firewall, but I thought I'd lend a hand, and I couldn't do the firewall till everything else was working anyway. My wife hadn't seen me in two and a half days, and I could barely give her a kiss when I walked through the door and collapsed on my bed. The SysAdmin was fired a few hours after I left. Back to work Monday morning.

sed@netcom.com

like furnace stokers (Score:2, Funny) (http://durak.org/sean/)

July 26, @06:57AM EDT (#2) (User Info) http://durak.org/sean/ i sometimes liken system and network admin to being a coal stoker in the basement of a big building, just shoveling coal into the furnace 24/7 to keep the business above running.

punchline of your story is that they fired the (only?) full time system administrator.

personal and professional info on homepage: http://durak.org/sean/

Anonymous Coward

Amen Brother (Score:1, Insightful) by on Monday July 26, @06:58AM EDT (#3)

Been there. All I can suggest is that you make a serious effort to spend more time playing and less time working. When I left my last job, I had 8 weeks vacation accrued, and a real bad attitude. I took two months off working, and now I limit my work week to 50 hrs on regular weeks, and anytime I work more than that, I take off a day or half day in the following week. This has really helped me be a lot nicer person overall (and my wife REALLY likes that). I have always met folks in high positions who DO appreciate my effort, and have thus always had stellar reviews and reccomedations for future employment. Good luck, and stay sane.

[July 15, 1999] Home Sweet Sweatshop

Information overload can be coupled with real overload, that is characteristic of startups

As one Slashdot reader put it ():

They think that because they work 18 hours a day, neglect their home life, end up divorced, have kids that don't know them, and few real friends, they are "Heros". They gave their all, 110%. Guess what, for that 110%, you will get a watch and maybe a small pention when you retire. You will dye alone, and no one that ever worked with you will care. There is so much more to life than the grind. People who overwork themselves aren't heros, they are idiots...

Another reader stated about WEB-related jobs

I work in "the Industry" and telecommute from home (very small apartment on the 5th floor). I have 10+ people over me and a few below me, and I've never met any of them face to face -- I only know them by e-mail, though I work with them every day for 18+ hours, sleeping on a futon in between. Pay is good, but it's very isolated -- no human contact at all, and I get very tired of staring at the same Netscape, Emacs, and shell windows all day, every day. I go through 150+ ounces of dew and coke every day, and there's nothing directly outside but traffic and other buildings. Time pressure is also fairly high. Everything must always be done "within 24 hours" because that's the way the Web works, I guess. I'm getting fairly tired of working this way.

Another interesting quote:

You know, media companies aren't the only ones. ANY sort of internet startup, and I've worked for MORE than one, has so many unreasonable demands that it's absurd. And in my experience, most of it's the people in charge. I'm working for a startup now. Hating every minute of it. I'm expected to work 80 hour weeks, be on call, do customer tech support (I'm the system administrator), and do seven other people's jobs while I'm at it. Which *NECESSITATES* a 70 hour work week. Every.. freaking.. week! And to add insult to injury, I'm not even paid 1/4th of what I'm worth according to every salary survey out there. And of course, I'm going to be the first one asked to take a pay cut or vacation when the VC runs out. Which I expect to be very soon. The company is a management disaster. Ignorance and blatant lack of record keeping and blatant lack of research has already wasted over $4 *MILLION*. And of course, in typical "let's get ready for that day far FAR away when we make an IPO" fashion, we have a CEO, CFO, CTO, and COO already. Who's combined salaries could buy me *two* RS/6000 SP2 Advanced Switches (which, last check, are over $100k/ea) *AND* a Lexus!

Yet another:

Why DON'T you take your own advice? I've left two companies so far, when the management got absolutely intolerable--when the 'con' list got longer than the 'pro' list.

Two truths I've learned in my first two internet jobs (since '94, when I graduated university):

Burn Rate : How I Survived the Gold Rush Years on the Internet ~ Usually ships in 24 hours

Michael Wolff / Paperback / Published 1999 Our Price: $11.20 ~ You Save: $2.80 (20%) Average Customer Review: 4 out of 5 stars

[Nov. 5, 1999] NetSlaves ~ Usually ships in 2-3 days

Bill Lessard, Steve Baldwin / Hardcover / Published 1999 Our Price: $13.97 ~ You Save: $5.98 (30%) Average Customer Review:

Prudloe Vensigian from Deep Run Mobile Home Park, Maryland , November 1, 1999 5 out of 5 stars These guys are nuts, and that's great! Oh yeah! From reading Netslaves it's easy to tell that these guys have been on the front lines of the new media wars for a long, long time. Not in the Generals' tents, but out where the layoff bullets fly and talented employees are more often rewarded by watching their kiss-ass co-workers get promoted over their heads than by anything else. If you are in, or want to get into, the fast-paced Internet go-go economy, you must read this book. No, you're not the only one who has found (or will find) that the pot of gold at the end of the Internet rainbow has already been emptied by investment bankers and other leeches, and that your share is just big enough to rent a studio apartmen, pay your ISP bills, and buy takeout pan pizzas every few days. I create Web site content for a living, so I live what these guys write, and dammit, I still love my work as much as ever despite the fact that doing the scut work behind the Internet is just as horrid as Steve and Bill say it is. As the late songwriter and newspaper humorist Sylvia Miller put it, "If misery loves company, then you're the one for me. You like to cry into your beer, wine always makes me shed a tear."

Work-life balance is not just for women

FT.com

he debate about "work-life balance" will generate contributions weightier than Erin Callan's short article (Is There Life After Work - NYTimes.com) in last weekend's New York Times, but few will be sadder.

Ms Callan, former chief financial officer at Lehman Brothers, used to keep a model of a private jet on her desk, according to Andrew Ross Sorkin's Too Big To Fail. She had to be told to remove a framed photo of herself getting out of a limousine, drawn from a magazine profile that dubbed her "The Most Powerful Woman on Wall Street". Now she has deep regrets.

..."I'm beginning to realise that I sold myself short," she writes. "I was talented, intelligent and energetic. [My career focus] didn't have to be so extreme."

This belated epiphany is the latest squall in the great storm system of controversy stirred up by Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In , out this week. Some critics have taken issue with Ms Sandberg for using her lofty pulpit to preach to women about how they should realise their potential.

I like the book, but, if anything, Ms Sandberg sells herself short. The lessons of Lean In – which is her expression for the full commitment women must make to their choices – are far more broadly applicable, to men as well as women.

If employees lean in, only to keel over on to the boardroom table out of fatigue, something is wrong. The book and Ms Callan's lament expose a problem with the system, not just with the people in it. Managers ought to be creating the conditions to get the best work from all staff, not simply to extract the most work from a determined few. If employees are driven, or drive themselves, to unproductive and unhappy extremes, the whole corporate economy suffers.

Ridding the world of the term "work-life balance" would be a start. As Ms Sandberg writes early in her book, if the problem is framed in that way, "who would ever choose work over life?"

The description also lays a trap for those individuals who believe they can spend the first half of their lives on work, and the rest on life. "That is not balance," writes Ms Callan. Too right: in fact, it is two periods of extreme imbalance, neither of which is likely to lead to happiness. Ms Callan, now 47, relates the breakdown of her first marriage as a result of work pressure and, underlining the particular dilemma faced by many women, her attempts, so far unsuccessful, to conceive a child with her new husband.

To focus the discussion only on women in the workplace limits the debate unnecessarily. Ms Sandberg wants a world in which both her daughter and her son will be able to choose their path freely, unhindered by obstacles or preconceptions. To get there, men as well as women will need to read, and adopt, many of her suggestions.

Among the most important is former secretary of state Colin Powell's leadership vision (cited approvingly in the book) of rejecting "busy bastards" – leaders who spend too long in the office. They set a poor example to staff, who end up feeling they will be judged on input of hours rather than output of useful work.

Many of the men at Lehman Brothers were probably also at the end of their tethers by 2005, when Ms Callan says she was spending most weekends sleeping in order to recharge herself for the week ahead. The bank would doubtless have interpreted an admission of exhaustion as a sign of weakness.

This attitude may be beginning to change, albeit only when a crisis point is reached. Both Lloyds Banking Group and Akzo Nobel gave their (male) chief executives leaves of absence to recover from extreme fatigue. Both men were in the early months of their roles – a period when external expectations were at their highest and internal support networks had yet to develop.

Ms Callan and Ms Sandberg mainly address the personal choices that determine happiness and achievement. The Lloyds and Akzo cases – and other stress-related problems that never come to light – demonstrate the need for more enduring structural solutions, too.

Managers and policy makers should act to correct these imbalances, not least for reasons of workplace equity and humanity. But there is a blunter motive for action: corporate leaders who inadvertently force women, and men, towards burnout, risk draining talented people from the pool that is supposed to feed their companies' future success.

Can You Say "Bubble"? by James Kwak

April 30, 2013 | The Baseline Scenario

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal had an article titled "Foosball over Finance" about how people in finance have been switching to technology startups, for all the predictable reasons: The long hours in finance. "Technology is collaborative. In finance, it's the opposite." "The prospect of 'building something new.'" Jeans. Foosball tables. Or, in the most un-self-conscious, over-engineered, revealing turn of phrase: "The opportunity of my generation did not seem to be in finance."

We have seen this before. Remember Startup.com? That film documented the travails of a banker who left Goldman to start an online company that would revolutionize the delivery of local government services. It failed, but not before burning through tens of millions of dollars of funding. There was a time, right around 1999, when every second-year associate wanted to bail out of Wall Street and work for an Internet company.

The things that differentiate technology from banking are always the same: the hours (they're not quite as bad), the work environment, "building something new," the dress code, and so on. They haven't changed in the last few years. The only thing that changes are the relative prospects of working in the two industries-or, more importantly, perceptions of those relative prospects.

Wall Street has always attracted a particular kind of person: ambitious but unfocused, interested in success more than any achievements in particular, convinced (not entirely without reason) that they can do anything, and motivated by money largely as a signifier of personal distinction. If those people want to work for technology startups, that means two things. First, they think they can amass more of the tokens of success in technology than in finance.

Second-since these are the some of the most conservative, trend-following people that exist-it means they're buying at the top.

  1. Anonymous

    What? No one in VC backs non-technical founders. That's ludicrous. Let them go, most of them are just destroying value in finance anyway…

  2. George Peacock

    Whether tech or other business, it's great to see the "bright but unfocused" of this generation eschewing law school and finance. The law and finance dangled riches in return for souls. Riches though siphoning, rather than creating. If these people head to tech, I hope it's because the lure of financial reward (risk-adjusted, course) of Wall Street (and law firms) is now low enough such that they can be productive members of our economy instead of drains. Maybe it's a bubble and many will fail, but maybe their souls and our pocketbooks will be saved in the process

  3. The Raven

    It is hard for me to believe that hours are better in tech startups than in finance. To succeed in a technology firm you have to know something substantive about the physical or social worlds. That doesn't sound like most of the too-smart finance graduates I know of.

    Also, as you say, they're buying at the top. I believe there are still fortunes to be made in tech, but it's going to be harder-the low-hanging fruit has been picked, and picked over.

  4. Anonymous

    I see this type all the time in the valley… We call them 'seagull managers' because they fly in, squawk a lot, poop all over everything, then fly out again before the extent of their technical incompetence can be discerned with certainty.

  5. Edward Ericson Jr.

    BWAAA! Spot on.

    But you need to distinguish between the "tech startups" you're talking about–that is, vaporware concept farms whose fresh-faced foosball aficionados spend all their time schmoozing Angels and VC wankers–and the "tech startups" that actually start with some actual tech.

  6. Bruce E. Woych

    http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/googles_spymasters_are_now_worried_about_your_secrets_20130429/
    By Robert Scheer
    Google's Spymasters Are Now Worried About Your Secrets
    Posted on Apr 29, 2013
    "A recent article in The Wall Street Journal by Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, "The Dark Side of the Digital Revolution," makes for very scary reading. It is not so much because of what he and co-author Jared Cohen, the director of Google Ideas, have to say about how dictators can use new information technology to suppress dissent; we know those guys are evil. What is truly frightening is that the techniques of the totalitarian state are the same ones pioneered by so-called democracies where commercial companies, like Google, have made a hash of the individual's constitutionally guaranteed right to be secure in his or her private space.

    The dictators, mired in more technologically primitive societies, didn't develop the fearsome new implements of control of the National Security State. Google and other leaders in this field of massively mined and shared information did. As the authors concede and expand on in their new book: (read more…)
    http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/googles_spymasters_are_now_worried_about_your_secrets_20130429/
    By Robert Scheer

  7. KL Tah

    It's important to note that the bubble that James is referring to here is a very peculiar sort of bubble, not that of dotcom as a whole.

    The people who venture in to finance in the first place are never very bright to begin with (not in the sense that really matters). They are already a walking bubble so yes, nothing has changed.

    They who are more likely to slay the goose than wait patiently for it to continue laying its golden eggs would carry taint wherever they go. I just hope that the innovators are alert enough to kick them straight back out before they do any damage.

  8. http://borsadocchiaperti.blogspot.it/2013/05/we-are-in-trap.html#.UYDhc7WpV-0

Breakaway Careers Is That Overwork Or Just Enthusiasm

May 28, 2001 | InformationWeek

What a recent study considers overwork in the U.S. workforce at large may be little more than business-as-usual for the IT professional. Working "12 to 14 hour days and over the weekend is just the status quo for IT," says Russell Clark, director of E-commerce and portals for OAO Technology Solutions Inc., an IT consulting firm with a staff of 2,200, in Greenbelt, Md.

But Clark agrees with the Families and Work Institute survey of 1,003 workers that it's not just the amount of work that determines whether someone feels overworked. Hard work paired with personal control over the work--for example, working to advance in a career, or saving toward college--can give a feeling of satisfaction. Overwork is more likely when people work longer hours for external reasons, such as needing to meet management expectations or because the workload requires that much time.

Or maybe it's boring. IT professionals generally work on a project basis, and for Clark there's a thrill akin to winning a race in reaching project milestones and hitting the big deadlines. "You love it," he says. "but if it's a project you're not interested in, once you get past eight hours, you get upset."

Some say no matter what the job, consistent long hours still add up to overwork. John Drake, author of Downshifting (Berrett-Koehler, 2001), and founder of an HR consulting firm known now as Drake Beam Morin, says IT is probably the worst area for overwork abuse. "IT is a key piece in most companies; long hours and dedication are expected--especially in small startups where it's 'we give you stock, you grow the company, work 12 to 16 hours a day,'" he says.

To avoid employee burnout, Clark rotates the work among his 20 staffers, and encourages a team environment where it's easy to have fun. In a previous job at Disney/ABC Sports, his group created sports games for PCs and PlayStations. Project deadlines coincided with the start of each major league season: baseball was due by April, football by August. "Even if you're not into sports, you'd get into it," he says. "Staying late and on weekends was just fun to us. If I were by myself doing the same work, it would've been no fun."

Longer work hours are becoming the norm, though not by choice. The average American employee works 42 hours a week and would prefer to work just under 35. A recently released InformationWeek Research 2001 Salary Survey finds that on average, IT staffers work 45 hours a week plus 24 hours of on-call time. Managers are working 50 hours a week, and on-call time is up 60% from last year's 15 hours a week to 24 hours.

Beth Devin, senior VP of retail technology, Charles Schwab & Co., says IT systems are partially to blame for the longer on-call hours. More systems are 24-by-7, she says, "more are customer-facing, so they can't go down. Before, you could do lots of background work during hours when the business is closed."

Drake says there's a cost to overwork: It can lead to costly mistakes, resentment, anger, and even workplace violence. His bottom line: Companies will only do something about the problem if they see a payoff. Drake expects the big payoff to be greater retention of good employees and lower recruiting costs.

Is This A Dead-end Career

Embedded.com

Become a dentist, CPA, or lawyer and odds are you'll be practicing that profession on a more or less daily basis till the day you retire. That seems less likely for engineers and firmware developers. How many EEs or software folks do you know in their 60s who still work as techies? How many in their 40s?

Though I haven't the statistics to support it, my observations suggest that embedded systems development is a field dominated by young folks -- say, those under 35 or so. Middle age seems to wean folks from their technical inclinations; droves of developers move towards management or even the dark side, marketing and sales.

Is salary compression the culprit? My students, all of 21 and armed with a newly minted BSEE, get entry-level jobs at $50-60k. That's an astonishing sum for someone with no experience. But the entire course of this career will see in general less than a doubling of this number. Pure techies doing no management may top out at only 50 percent above the entry-level figure.

Consider that $70k or $80k is a staggering amount compared to the nation's average mid-$30k average family income -- but even so, it's quickly swallowed by the exigencies of middle-class life. That $50k goes a long way when one is single and living in a little apartment. Life happens fast, though. Orthodontics, college, a house, diapers, and much more consume funds faster than raises compensate. That's not to suggest it's not enough to live on, but surely the new pressures that come with a family make us question the financial wisdom of pursuing this wealth-limited career. Many developers start to wonder if an MBA or JD would forge a better path.

What about respect? My friends think "engineer" means I drive a train. Or that being in the computer business makes me the community's PC tech support center. "Doctor" or "VP Marketing" is something the average Joe understands and respects.

Is tedium a factor? Pushing ones and zeroes around doesn't sound like a lot of work, but getting each and every one of a hundred million perfect is tremendously difficult. I for one reached a point years ago where writing code and drawing schematics paled; much more fun was designing systems, inventing ways to build things, and then leaving implementation details to others. I know many engineers who bailed because of boredom.

External forces intervene, too. Though age discrimination is illegal it's also a constant factor. Many 50-ish engineers will never learn Java, C++, and other new technologies. They become obsolete. Employers see this and react in not-unexpected ways. Other employers look askance at the high older engineer salaries and will consider replacing one old fart with two newbies.

Champion of Angry Programmers

The main issue, according to Matloff, is the hiring practices of many technology companies that both discriminate against older programmers and turn foreign-born programmers, working in the United States on H-1B visas, into indentured servants.

The problem stems from the unwillingness of most HR departments to train their employees, combined with an overemphasis on the latest skills. The result, in Matloff's view, is a situation that's completely unacceptable to everyone concerned. Older programmers are viewed as "obsolete" once they reach 30 years of age, he said. And foreign-born programmers, who are being brought in to replace them, are forced to accept jobs for less than market rate while often working under hostile conditions just to get their green cards.

Matloff sees the companies losing out, because they are overlooking experienced, easily retrainable candidates and often hiring less-qualified ones to save money, hoping to reap the benefits of a compliant workforce in an industry notorious for job-hopping.

Matloff speaks to the NetSlaves on the authority of his extensive research and numerous articles on the IT employment situation. He defends himself against charges of xenophobia by citing a group of Indian programmers who have organized to pursue legal action against alleged abuses.

Like what you hear? Read the book: NetSlaves: True Tales of Working the Web, a beyond-the-hype look at what it's really like to work in the Internet business.

Book Reviews NetSlaves

Pretty naive review, but good discussion
Slashdot

If you read newspapers, books, or follow Net-business coverage on TV, you might well think work on the Net is mostly about the billionaires who found Hotmail or Yahoo or Netscape, or the clean, benefit-laced, campus-like work environments they provide. You'd have no way of knowing the much more pervasive and unnerving reality: for every one of those there's a zillion companies that come into the world still-born, fail miserably, make and sell crummy stuff, and hire countless miserable, exploited, harassed and burned-out programmers, techies, geeks and nerds.

Baldwin and Lessard are combat veterans of the Net, both in terms of writing and personal experience. They are also long-standing Truth Tellers.

In addition to writing about computing for a number of magazines and websites, they also run the guerilla website NetSlaves, a running testimonial to real life for many in the hi-tech workplace.

"NetSlaves" is a terrific extension of the site, one of the few books to come off of a website that really works as a book. Lessard and Baldwin have a powerful story to tell, and they do it with a lot of punch. "NetSlaves" ought to be handed out to every graduate of every tech school, and given to every new employee of every Net company.

Baldwin and Lessard say their grand "pre-alpha" statement about the Nature of Net-Slavery is this:

"Technology has changed, but human nature hasn't. Whether it's the Gold Rush of 1849 or the Web Rush of l999, people are people. More often than not, they're miserable, nasty, selfish creatures, driven by vanity and greed, doing whatever they can to get ahead, even if it means stepping on the person next to them, crushing the weak, and destroying themselves in the process."

The authors don't have a particularly high regard for many forms of Net work, which they lambaste as the New Media Caste System, but they care about Net workers, and the book is curiously affectionate, even loving about them, as well as a hoot to read.

Both concede that one of their purposes in writing "NetSlaves" is to have the book serve as a quasi-historical, quasi-anthropological reflection of a particular moment in the culture.

Although the tone of "NetSlaves" is informal and funny, the point is pretty serious. "NetSlaves" has done what legions of reporters and authors have so far failed to do: paint a truthful picture of about the new nature of work in the techno-centered world.

For all of the media blabber about Net commerce and hi-tech startups, life in this fast lane can be brutal - insane hours, almost no employee-employer loyalty, greed and moral cowardice, help-desk geeks driven mad by enraged customers, back-stabbing, savage pressure, competiveness and the many resultant neuroses from all of the above.

Baldwin and Lessard make no pretense of objectivity. They write with almost ferocious authority and persuasiveness. They describe themselves as "two angry, cranky bastards out for blood" on behalf of their exhausted selves and the countless burnouts, geniuses, thieves, opportunists, workaholics and losers they've encountered along the way.

"NetSlaves" gives us a whole new language for the villains and back-stabbers who make up the hi-tech workplace. Particular venom is reserved for the "Fry Cooks," the "get it done at all costs" project people of the New Media Caste System. (There's also the "Garbagemen," the workers who have to get servers up and running when they crash).

My favorite chapter is about the "Cab Drivers," the haunted and hunted itinerant Web freelancers who design sites, followed closely by "Gold Diggers and Gigolos," a scathing portrait of the ambitious, night-crawling, hard-partying, butt-kissing movers and shakers and wannabees of hi-tech work world.

"Most Web sites are designed by itinerant, restless young people who have given up the constraints of working for one company in particular, in exchange for the self-determination of pursuing their own path. The rationale is that they can earn a higher hourly rate and pick and choose their projects.

"The reality, however," write Lessard and Baldwin, "is that these Cab Drivers have to constantly hustle for work and their passengers, or clients, who are also cash-crunched, are notorious for skipping out on their fares. Added to this is the lack of health benefits that Cab Drivers face - a plight which has forced many to simply neglect themselves." This is a world in which workers are terrified or despondent when forced to take a few weeks off, convinced they'll fall behind forever.

"NetSlaves" succeeds wonderfully in its goal to tell the truth about a particular culture at a critical juncture in time. It is, in fact one of the few telling looks inside the new kinds of workplaces springing up in the hi-tech, global economy. Workers beware.

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