The slippery slope from bullshit jobs to company failure

Today I’ll be posting on the book “The Wealth of Humans” by Ryan Avent. I’d like to discuss how work serves a purpose. When there are too many workers companies create bullshit jobs. When their jobs are bullshit people lose their sense of identity. When people lose their identities they stop contributing to the creative juices that produce the company’s culture. Once the free sharing of information stops the company is toast.

Work is not just work.

“Work is not just the means by which we obtain the resources needed to put food on the table. It is also a source of personal identity. It helps give structure to our days and our lives. It offers the possibility of personal fulfillment that comes from being of use to others, and it is the critical part of the glue that holds society together and smooths its operation. Over the last generation, work has become ever less effective at performing these roles. That, in turn, has placed pressure on government services and budgets, contributing to a more poisonous and less generous politics. Meanwhile the march of technological progress continues, adding to the strain.” – Ryan Avent

Bullshit jobs don’t provide the same sense of personal identity, structure to our days and lives, and the possibility of personal fulfillment to others that real work provides. What happens when work works?

“When work works, we understood, it provides a basis for a stable social order. It gives people something to do. It gives workers the sense that they are contributing to society and to the welfare of their families. It allocates income in a way that – if not always seen by everyone as just – is accepted by most as a valid basis for the distribution of resources. It encourages people to seek out the things at which they are comparatively good and to develop those skills. It makes the world go.” – Ryan Avent

So what starts the decline from true work to bullshit jobs?

“When things are abundant, they are used carelessly. When water is plentiful, people leave taps running and irrigate massive, thirsty lawns hours after a rainstorm. When labour is plentiful, three workers pour the tea. If labour abundance is dramatic enough and prolonged enough, then the entire structure of an economy can warp, at first putting people to work doing low value kinds of tasks.” – Ryan Avent

Who does this harm? Who does this benefit? Perhaps the idea of a bullshit job is that it does not have any function or meaning. It’s just a means to occupy and employee’s time.

“The way that information flows within firms is hugely important to a company’s performance. The ways that workers talk to each other, or decide what kinds of information to pass along to their bosses, make the difference between success and failure.” – Ryan Avent

It’s up to the culture of the workplace to keep the information passed along. Knowing everything that’s happening from the top level down allows the culture to build up and to support the needs of the people working there.

“Part of what makes the firm’s information processing machinery work is the knowledge contained within every worker’s head: the culture of the firm.” – Ryan Avent

More about the flow of information.

“Knowing what information matters and what to do with it is the difference between a wildly profitable company and a bankrupt one.” – Ryan Avent

In summary, information needs to flow freely in all successful companies. Once the information stops flowing, inefficiencies multiply and communication is stifled. Once communication is stifled workers begin checking out of work, bosses assign meaningless work and the company fails.

Have you seen this happen first-hand? Contact me, I’d love to hear how you dealt with it.

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Author: David Neely

Professional Software Developer. Technology and Web Coordinator at the University of Hawaii's Manoa Career Center.