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Ask Slashdot: Does Your Job Need To Exist? 343

An anonymous reader writes "PBS has an article about the growth of jobs that really don't need to exist. It includes an interview with professor David Graebner, who's known for his 2013 article 'BS jobs.' The premise is simple: as technology has automated huge portions of work that used to fill the days for millions of workers, many jobs simply involve less work. How often have you sat at your desk browsing the internet instead of being productive? If your company is such that you can aggregate that lost time across a bunch of workers, you could probably reduce the headcount significantly if everybody just stayed on task all the time. But that's not even an expectation at a lot of companies. Graebner ballparks the number of effectively useless jobs at around 20%. (It's not that the individual workers are useless, just that there are, for example, 12 people doing the work of 10.) So, how about it: how much actual productivity goes into your 40-hour workweek? What about your co-workers? How many people could your company fire if everybody just paid attention all the time?"
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Ask Slashdot: Does Your Job Need To Exist?

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  • by MindPrison ( 864299 ) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @05:28PM (#46968863) Journal
    ...because we're automating everything that we can automate.

    There are a few businesses that WILL boom in the future though, such as the fitness (sports) industry, as we...when we become less and less physically active, will need to find a way to keep ourselves fit. Many things will change in the future because of this. What I'm worried about though - is the coming mass-unemployment, the extreme difference between the rich & the unemployed. Human greed knows no bounds, we already know that from our own history. But we're also inventive and creative creatures, so we will find a way, but it's going to hurt before it becomes any good.

    Another business that will only increase, is entertainment - and advertisement. People won't know what to do with themselves as we get less and less stuff to occupy ourselves with. I suspect the Internet will be highly regulated, constantly battling with hackers (hacktivists) & crackers, the richer will get richer and the unemployed masses will be desperate for entertainment (which is good for the powers that be...because it numbs them down and make their dull lives easier, from the chair/sofa).

    Eventually the greedy will go to far, and the people will uproar and a civil war will arise from this. This is the "shift in our time", after that horrible period in time...with seemingly endless poverty and suffering, things will eventually even out and become MUCH better than we have now. Everything is automated, the need for money has been abandoned as we don't need to purchase anything. Everything we need will be produced by robots & automated food-plantages. Overpopulation will lead to further research into terraforming planets...

    ...Err...I'm going to stop now, before I embarrass myself. :)
  • by BeerCat ( 685972 ) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @05:34PM (#46968907) Homepage

    "off task probably half the day"
    Which means that you are "on task" around half the day.

    Wow! You rock!

    Seriously, on a project management course some years ago, it was pointed out that the best individuals within an organisation can devote about 50% of their time to a task. The rest is taken up with (non-task) phone calls, meetings with others, summaries to your boss, and "personal needs breaks" (and lunch!), and so forth.

    The "average" worker can be expected to devote 33% of their time to the task, as they also have to contend with IT issues, "other worker" issues and sheer "I need some downtime" type stuff.

    So, if the article suggests "12 doing the work of 10" then that's an unrealistic 80% "on task".

    Now, if it was "12 doing the work of 3", then there would be a case.

  • by sumdumass ( 711423 ) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @06:14PM (#46969051) Journal

    You also have to account for expansions in volume or increases in business activities.

    An overly simply explanation of this might be a restaurant I once worked at. About 20 years ago, I worked at one as a line cook. One Friday, the dinner crowd just wasn't happening. The city had some festival thing going on. The manager who was new to the store decided to cut staff down to levels more accurate for the amount of sales while having wet dreams of being the GM's bitch or something. Most of the employees went into the bar section and had a drink after clocking out. Then we heard the crack of thunder, the power blinked off then on and about 30 minutes later, the dinner rush was on as strong as ever because it started pouring down rain and the festival closed. Except we had no way to accommodate the crowd effectively due to all the staff being sent home and/or drinking.

    So you sit there doing your thing with a little time to relax here and there because 12 people are doing the job of 10. Then one day, you start getting busier and busier then the boss hires another person and you have 13 people doing the work of 11 but all your customers are happy and being taken care of which encourages even more sales. Or you could have 10 people doing the work of 10 with the other 2 across the street getting drunk and when business increases, lose all or some of it because those 10 people cannot handle the increase.

    Some times inefficiencies need to be built in just so increased demand can be satisfied. It takes time to hire and train someone. It takes less time to have someone do a little extra work that they already do.

  • No kidding (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @06:25PM (#46969105)

    And that aside, there's the problem of things being tasked to capacity being unable to deal with surges when they happen. Like where I work we hire students to help (since we are a university). It is expected they'll spend a non-trivial amount of time sitting around, doing homework, etc. Why? Because when someone needs something done, we want to have a student to assign to it. If the students are working 100% of the time, well then anytime the workload increases, it means we have to delay things, we can't handle it then.

    Of course it isn't like they'd focus on work 100% of the time, even if we did have them fully tasked.

    There are just all kinds of reasons it doesn't work, and it is not unique to modern society. The past was NOT full of extremely hard working people who did nothing but focus on the job. That has never been true.

    You are always going to need more people to do a job then if each person theoretically worked to 100% capacity 100% of the time. Since in most places work loads vary, that'll also make you need more people since you need enough to deal with the peaks, not the nominal amount.

    This is life, this is how it has always been, and there's nothing wrong with it.

  • Re:Obviously (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pla ( 258480 ) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @11:03PM (#46970235) Journal
    Another factor is that a person is not always producing, but a competence resource. What is a five minute action for a person with competence can be a week long investigation for another


    I wouldn't describe my job as "hard". I have about a 30% duty cycle, on a typical day. And yet, that doesn't mean you could replace three people like me with just me. When the time comes to save the day, I need similarly qualified "boots on the ground" to get everything done ASAP and minimize downtime. Compare that to how much it costs for a multinational to lost the ability to post sales for an hour, and I look like a goddamned steal.

    For the most part, I try to fill my spare time with "fun" projects that just happen to marginally benefit my employer. But when something goes wrong, having me there to fix it in seconds rather than letting the company falter uselessly for days at a time more than justifies my salary.

    Now, if they wanted to pay me somewhere around 5k per half-hour incident 15-20 times a year (and let me sleep in most days), hey, I wouldn't object. But Corporate America hasn't really matured yet to the point where they understand that it doesn't take a body at a desk to put out the occasional fire.
  • Re:Obviously (Score:4, Interesting)

    by NIK282000 ( 737852 ) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @11:04PM (#46970247) Homepage Journal

    As a maintenance electrician at a facility that runs a blast furnace I don't work every minute of my 12hr shift but when something does come up it I have to run, coke is not a cheap fuel to waste. My employer understands this, having me in the building to fix one problem all day can save them thousands in down time and lost product. I don't think they are about to consolidate me out of a job any time soon but that doesn't mean they wont try. Service contractors of every kind are getting more popular with businesses that have frequent need for repair or troubleshooting of equipment.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 10, 2014 @11:44PM (#46970409)

    Nothing could be further from the truth. They're, ummm, liaising with customers and, ummm, influencing key decision makers. I forgot, they're holistically enacting marketplace appraisal strategies at the C-suite level.

    Nonsense! They are conceptualizing, initializing, and bringing into fruition, action items. How else are you going to enable groundbreaking and essential niche market utiliizations and bleeding edge information cloud based customer- centric solutions?

    Sheesh! Didn't you learn anything in your MBA courses?

  • Re:Obviously (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 11, 2014 @12:00AM (#46970497)

    you at the desk all day ensures them you are their bitch on their time schedule, not yours. If instead you were on call, what is to stop you from having other clients with bigger needs to fill the rest of your day , er, paying you more for more priority?

  • Re:Obviously (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Cederic ( 9623 ) on Sunday May 11, 2014 @06:17AM (#46971263) Journal

    The article's point though is that employing 3 people like you is more expensive than getting you to do 8 hours a day not 2-3.

    It's right too - assuming your 2-3 hours can scale to a full day.

    I'm not sure it can. I know that I can do more in a day than others get done in a week, and I often spend a lot of time just chatting to people, browsing the web, finishing early, etc as a result.

    If I didn't get all that 'downtime' then I wouldn't have the contacts/knowledge about the organisation that I use when I'm being 'productive'. If I didn't browse the web I'd lose track of industry changes, trends and activities. If I applied myself solidly then I'd burn out and add no value.

    So I don't measure by hours worked. I don't even measure by whether I get my job done, although I do get it done. I measure by the direct cost impacts I have on the company.

    E.g. last year in two hours I saved the company around 4 times my annual salary in direct storage costs. This year it's taken me 6 weeks of hard effort (and is stopping me getting my job done) but I've saved the company around 80 times my annual salary in upfront software licence costs, and an ongoing 15 times my salary in support fees.

    So as with you, and half the people this article refers to: Am I excess headcount, under-utilised, or an asset to the company?

  • by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Sunday May 11, 2014 @06:35AM (#46971327) Journal

    Warning: this is a long and rambly reply.

    Your job probably won't. Your life probably won't either, well not that specifically. Being British, not American (as I assume you are), we don't do university in the same way. Courses are basically just what you sign up for, so I don't have the same direct experience as you.

    However, English classes in school were much along the same lines. We were required to write endless essays (which curiously, no one ever bothered actually teaching us *how* to do) on bizarre analyses of the author's inner thought processes while he (was all he in this case) was writing the book we happened to be analysing.

    Not only did it utterly suck the life out of the books a good deal of it was probably outright wrong or at least deeply misguided. Oh and it utterly put me off the idea of analysing things.

    The thing is, fast forward 20 years or so and I reently had a complete about-face. My SO is as a hobby an aspiring author. As part of this there are various writing forums out there, and much like tech ones have a range of characters form n00bs to experienced (to total nutjobs---it is the internet after all). Anyway, as you might expect a common topic of discussion is what makes bad writing, and exercises etc to help spot that and avoid it in your own writing.

    Anyway to cut a very long story merely long, I've been offering moral support and doing some of these as well. Turns out it has all the same facets as literary analysis, but because it's being done by people for fun, they've figured out how to make it fun and interesting.

    This is not to say your course on Polish film analysis falls into this camp: I strongly suspect it's the opposite.

    However, I now feel a greater appreciation for certain things. One, and I've found this particularly entertaining, is when I end up reading a book I don't enjoy very much, I now generally understand *why* I don't like it and not only that, I can rant and rave about it in a semi-coherent manner.

    Likewise, there's a lot of things in film and TV that can feel awkward and clunky or pull you out, and it's just plain interesting to be able to see why it's happening, and in many cases what they were clearly trying to achieve.

    Is it useful to work? For me, certainly not. Is it fun? Yeah, definitely. It's basically added a layer of nuance and entertainment to already entertaining activities. The sad thing is, I got so damaged by my schooling, it took 20 years and a *LOT* of gentle prodding to get me get me to appreciate such things.

    What I appreicate now is clearly what we were meant to be learning, but is to completely alien to what we were actually "taught" as to e essentially unrecognisable. I guess my conclusio is that it's good to do things like the thing you were complaining about in general (not for a job, just for the hell of it and ejoying life better), though in 99% of cases they are do so badly as to e actively damaging.

No extensible language will be universal. -- T. Cheatham