A recent YouGov poll found that only half of British workers in full-time employment thought that their job made any meaningful contribution to the world, and 37 per cent were sure that it did not. This mirrors stats that suggest as much as 40 per cent of the global workforce consider their positions to be futile. London School of Economics anthropologist Professor David Graeber has a term for these vocations: “bullshit jobs”.
If this resonates, don’t take it personally. According to his new book, Prof Graeber thinks it is the jobs themselves that are the real issue, not the people performing them. His list of less-than-useful professions includes “HR consultants, communications co-ordinators, PR researchers, financial strategists, corporate lawyers [lawyers don’t fare particularly well] or the sort of people who spend their time staffing committees that discuss the problem of unnecessary committees” (although he accepts that anthropology professors are probably on other people’s lists).
The crux of his argument: at the dawn of the consumer age, we were promised that technology would allow for 15-hour working weeks. Instead, we’re working longer hours, often filled with tasks we deem pointless, and living in fear that said technology will steal our livelihoods. And even if your job isn’t entirely meaningless, chances are elements of it are. Prof Graeber believes we can do better than this.