In his recently published book anthropologist David Graeber suggests that up to 40% of jobs have little meaning and purpose. His theory is backed by a 2015 YouGov survey which found that 37% of respondents believe that their jobs make no “meaningful contribution to the world”.
The book reminds us that in 1930, economist, John Maynard Keynes predicted that by the year 2000 technological advances should have enabled the average working week to reduce from 40 hours to 15 hours. Whilst there’s no doubt that technology has advanced more than even Keynes imagined, the truth is that most of us are ‘connected’ to our work for far more than 40 hours each week.
It’s hard to think of a role that doesn’t in some way utilise a mobile device, which by nature is with the user both during the working day and beyond. Few organisations have adopted policies such as Zmail, where the email servers are ‘put to sleep’ overnight and at weekends. Consequently, many of us connect to work at home, on holiday and in bed! This, in itself has an impact on our drive and motivation as we find it increasingly hard to step off the hamster wheel to become refreshed.
Add to this the dawning realisation that many organisations exists for reasons that don’t align with their employees values. One survey reported that 64% of employees disagree with what their organisation stands for! That’s not just ambivalence it’s actual disagreement with their employers reason for being.
Yet we continue to serve a master that doesn’t share our personal values because we feel trapped. To move to a not for profit, or a start-up is both risky and almost certainly less well paid. And unless you are one of the tiny minority who finds it difficult to spend each month’s salary, a pay cut is not an attractive option. So we stay loyal to a job for an organisation that exists for reasons we don’t wholeheartedly support.
Furthermore, it is not just the organisation’s mission that fails to motivate. Much of the work feels pointless. The meeting that didn’t seem to achieve much, the report that may not be read and all the internal manoeuvres that only serve to build and destroy fiefdoms.
This being the case why do we do it? Shouldn’t we all be shouting ‘This is a waste of my time!’
Groupthink is at play. Rather than state the obvious we go along with the masses and do the opposite, we build up the importance of our role, creating an aura of urgency and importance which in reality isn’t justified. We get so good at this that we fool ourselves and those around us, until one day we might be faced with a crisis that puts it all into perspective – a family tragedy, redundancy or retirement.
If the statistics are true, employment has never been stronger with the jobless rate at a 43 year low. Therefore the risk of quitting and not finding another role is also reduced. Add to this the fact that roles in public service, small businesses and not for profit organisations have become more professional and respectable there’s a real and rising threat to multi-nationals and their ‘pointless jobs’. What if smart people start to question their roles?
Some large organisations appear to believe that an annual volunteering day and some worthy imagery in the company report will make people believe that they serve a worthy organisation. People are not that gullible, it is time to revisit purpose at every level – organisationally, for each team and for every individual.
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