During the holiday season, many of us strive to find a greater meaning and purpose in our lives. Given the large proportion of our lives spent at work, it makes sense to look for a purpose-driven life in what we do for a living. However, in his new book “Bulls**t Jobs,” anthropologist David Graeber contends that 40 percent of Americans find their job meaningless.
While finding meaning is a personal process, the high percentage of those not finding it in what they do is a clear indication that America’s workforce is decidedly uninspired by their daily lives. Graeber crowd-sourced anecdotes from American workers to conclude that people often consider their job meaningless due to having no pride in the job functions they perform and think their work doesn’t add societal value. Many Americans indicated that the world not be worse off if their job disappeared tomorrow. In fact, many felt the world actually would be a better place without their job-specific contributions.
According to Graeber, jobs that fall under the meaningless classification include managerial positions and corporate lawyers, as well as clerical and administrative roles. He goes on to question how these jobs evolved in a profits-driven capitalistic society. Graeber postulates several reasons for the existence of these occupations. These include: helping bosses feel important; completing arbitrary paperwork to demonstrate compliance; and providing superiors with skill sets they should but do not possess. However, in the end, he asserts that these jobs exist to prevent the development of a “happy and productive population with free time on their hands.”
Consequently, Graeber concludes that we break down more meaningful positions into smaller roles to adhere to a standard of everyone working eight hours a day, five days a week to keep the wheels of capitalism turning .
What Makes a Job Meaningless?
Many say that meaningless work is a significant issue and growing. However, this is at odds with numerous academic studies. Recently, the National Bureau of Economic Research recently used data from the Census and the American Time Use Survey from between 1950-2013 to determine that while work had contributed increasingly to stress, Americans now experience less pain, fatigue and sadness while attaching more meaningfulness to their work.
Gallup polling indicates that job satisfaction has marginally increased in the past several decades. The number of people who would continue working after winning a $10 million lottery has also risen. Furthermore, a recent Pew survey shows that while American workers find the most meaning from their families, a significant percentage of workers said their career provided more meaning more than money, faith, friendships, activities and hobbies.
Unemployment hit a 49 year low in October. So, if you find your job meaningless, this is the best time in recent years to do something about it. It’s a job seekers’ market, and there is a substantial skills shortage in key areas like technology and soft skills. By taking an active interest in reinvesting in personal development, you have an incredible opportunity to build toward a more meaningful tomorrow in a more fulfilling job. Consequently, you are uniquely qualified and able to create the change you want to see in your world going into the new year. Take advantage of it.