David Graeber, an anthropologist, speculated that many people went to work each day and did nothing. That is, nothing that was of any benefit to their organization, the world or themselves; a completely empty job that had no meaningful output. Graeber ran a survey on YouGov and 37% of people in Britain responded that yes, they had such a bullshit job. A similar survey in the Netherlands resulted in 40% saying the same. Estimates for the US have been similar or even higher.

Keep in mind that the people responding were willing to say that the job that paid their salary was bullshit. It is easy to speculate that many more would not admit that their job was meaningless, even if it was: “It’s very important that I monitor the hourly usage of training room A.”

You might be thinking that this could only apply to the public sector, but no, bullshit jobs are split pretty evenly across public and private. They appear in almost all industries – it turns out that even the highest tech organizations have their share of pointless work. You must have come across people in your own experience who either do so little, or so meaningless a task, that their job qualifies as bullshit.

Personal assistants reported that they have nothing to do, but their boss tells them to look busy – he wants to keep the prestige of having two PAs. Some assistants reported that they do the real work; their boss has the bullshit job of going to lunch and attending meaningless meetings. Many bullshit jobs are in administration. Process workers on the factory floor have been systematically made more and more efficient so that most of their work is real. This indicates that contrary to the popular notion, bullshit floats upwards.

Some of the unspoken rules that might apply in such a culture:

Don’t tell anyone that their job is bullshit.

Don’t tell anyone (except David Graeber) that your job is bullshit.

Don’t point out to management that bullshit jobs exist in the organization. You might be speaking with someone who has one.

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