Monday, August 24, 2015

How much of your work is useless?

Are American companies generating a lot of make-work that keeps people on the clock for long hours without actually doing a whole lot of useful stuff?

Fifty years ago the popular media speculated about “automation” and bountiful technology that would lead to steadily increasing leisure time in the United States, and asked if the 30-hour workweek for full-time workers would become reality.

Alas. You can pop that balloon. Americans notoriously work longer hours than just about everyone in the Western Hemisphere.

Now Tim Wu at is asking why that is so.

He points out that measured productivity has risen hugely in recent decades, women have massively entered the workforce and our population has grown 76%.

What’s going on?

Wu mentions the unmentionable: are a lot of our hard-working white-collar professionals doing useless work while they’re putting in 50 or 60 or 80-plus hours a week?

Specifically, he says:
“[Consider] the question of whether the American system, by its nature, resists the possibility of too much leisure, even if that’s what people actually want, and even if they have the means to achieve it. In other words, the long hours may be neither the product of what we really want nor the oppression of workers by the ruling class, the old Marxist theory. They may be the byproduct of systems and institutions that have taken on lives of their own and serve no one’s interests. That can happen if some industries have simply become giant make-work projects that trap everyone within them…
“…in white-collar jobs, the amount of work can expand infinitely through the generation of false necessities—that is, reasons for driving people as hard as possible that have nothing to do with real social or economic needs.
“…The fact that employees are now always reachable eliminates what was once a natural barrier of sorts, the idea that work was something that happened during office hours or at the physical office. With no limits, work becomes like a football game where the whistle is never blown.

Let’s put this in simple words: are managers and bosses forcing their employees to spend time doing stuff that doesn’t really contribute to the mission and success of their business?

Did your boss ever make you do something that was useless or redundant?

Did you ever sit through a meeting that was a complete waste of time?

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

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