In 2015, YouGov, which is a data-analytics firm, polled British people regarding whether they believed their jobs to be meaningful. Out of this poll, thirty-seven percent of individuals said no, and thirteen percent of individuals said that they were unsure. It was not that these people thought they had “shit jobs,” per say. It was that they had “bullshit jobs:” jobs in which “even the person doing the job can’t really justify the existence of, but they have to pretend that there’s some reason for it to exist.”  

The term “bullshit jobs” was coined by David Graeber, an anthropologist at the London School of Economics who published an essay in 2013 entitled “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs: A Work Rant.” The essay became an overnight success and was circulated quite widely, subsequently causing Graeber to publish Bullshit Jobs, a book which delves a bit deeper into the concepts that he discusses in his essay. While the book is quite lengthy and frankly, too politically swayed, it features one pronounced bottom line: as a workforce, we no longer function under capitalism but rather what he calls a “managerial feudalism.” In other words, the prestige of an employer is not based upon their company’s efficiency in manufacturing and producing. Rather, company prestige is based upon things such as the presence of multiple managers, supervisors (or abstractly, the ability to allot, distribute, and appropriate resources and money.) According to Graeber, this “managerial feudalism” is the fault behind the rise of “bullshit jobs.”  

Since its publication, the book has somewhat fallen out of favor and since forgotten. Sure, many can admit that this structure of “managerial feudalism” most certainly structures our workplace, but in a society plagued by idleness, a push for revolution was highly unlikely. My job might be “bullshit,” but it is easy and it also pays the bills. Succumbing to this “managerial feudalism” will allow me to keep paying the bills and allow me to continue being paid for reading the news while sending out an occasional work email. So, while Graeber may have raised some awareness around “bullshit jobs,” and “managerial feudalism,” their existence in the workplace comfortably remained the status quo: a status quo which was arguably supported by all of those who do in fact, have “bullshit jobs.”   

Interestingly enough, however, during the COVID-19 Pandemic, this book and essay alike began to resurface. As it became clear that the infamous “2 weeks to flatten the curve” announcement made in March 2020 was going to be a lot longer than 2 weeks, companies had to cut costs and were forced to furlough many employees. As businesses shifted to a remote structure, they no longer needed the unnecessary receptionist who answered “one phone call a day” and “kept a candy dish full of mints” but added legitimacy to the company when outsiders would walk into the office, or the employees who “spend their time staffing committees that discuss the problem of unnecessary committees.” These furloughed individuals, who had previously acknowledged and thus enabled the notions of “managerial feudalism” and “bullshit jobs” sat tight, and basically asked themselves: “will my company deem my job ‘bullshit,’ and lay me off, or is my job valuable enough that the company I am working for cannot function without me.”  

The better question that these individuals should be asking themselves, however, is “did I allow my job to be ‘bullshit’ or have I made myself and my job valuable enough that the company I am working for cannot function without me?” 

  It is easy to blame the “managerial feudalism” and its subsequent creation of “bullshit jobs” that we have been capitalizing upon for decades as the reason why your temporary furlough turned into a lay-off. However, even if your job is “bullshit,” it is up to you to transform your job into something of value, and to make you as an employee indispensable.  

The Covid-19 pandemic is somewhat forcing the workforce move away from the paradigm of “managerial feudalism” that it has been feeding itself for decades. New definitions of what makes are job “meaningful” “valuable” and “necessary” are emerging, and as an employee, it is up to you, not your job description, to mold your job and yourself in a way that fits these newfound meanings. Who knows if this progression towards the trend of “lean and mean” will stick, but for your own sake, finding value within your work is – valuable.