- When work does not happen at work, employees go into their job but are either essentially insubordinate or are doing completely unnecessary and mundane tasks.
- Many workers report having to pretend that they are working on getting through the day and at least feel like they are doing something meaningful.
- The impact of poor management on a work environment if often to blame for insubordination.
Going to work means doing some form of labor. So how often is it that work involves little or no labor? Anthropologist David Graeber says it is more often than you’d think. For example, 37% to 40% of workers say their jobs have no meaningful effect on the world.
When work does not happen at work, employees go into their job but are either essentially insubordinate or are doing completely unnecessary and mundane tasks. Unfortunately, insubordination and this lack of necessity can go undetected for long periods by higher-ups.
Many workers report having to pretend that they are working on getting through the day and at least feel like they are doing something meaningful. Workers with jobs that require this sort of behavior routinely report unhappiness.
What kind of jobs have the most insubordination and meaningless tasks?
Insubordination means “not working while at work,” not “workers are bad for not working at work.” In many cases, workers have no other choice.
Forty percent of Dutch workers report that their jobs had no good reason to exist, and only 18% of that 40% said being “at least somewhat happy doing them.”
Additionally, a YouGov poll showed that only 50% of full-time workers in the United Kingdom “were entirely sure their job made any meaningful contribution to the world, and 37% were quite sure it did not.”
These are consistent findings regarding jobs across the board. But which workers in which industries feel this way most strongly about their jobs?
Anthropologist David Graeber’s book Bullshit Jobs: A Theory extensively details research on phenomena surrounding unsatisfactory and insubordination-inducing jobs, whose tasks are routinely reported as meaningless.
Graeber’s research indicates that jobs with the most insubordination and meaningless or non-existent tasks – the latter being the general cause of the former – are administrative assistants.
Many of Graber’s case reports indicate assistants feel that they are just at work to make someone else life more manageable and that they often are not assigned any tasks, so they have to make up things to do.
“The weirdest and (apart from the title) may be most [pointless] thing about my job was that while it was generally acknowledged that there wasn’t enough work to do, you weren’t allowed to conspicuously not work. In a hark back to the days of the early internet, even Twitter and Facebook were banned.”
Generally, these jobs are blue-collar and pay by the hour or are white-collar and salaried, in which the former “tend to be the object of indignities.”
The latter, by contrast, “are often surrounded by honor and prestige; they are respected as professionals, well paid, and treated as high achievers…yet they are secretly aware that they have achieved nothing…they feel it’s all based on a lie.”
Is insubordination industry-specific?
In general, however, it is fairer to suggest that this is not an industry-specific problem but an epidemic-scale management problem across industries.
Some jobs have insubordination built-in on account of their employment consisting of mundane tasks or even entire days without any work to do.
Graber seems to think this is mainly concentrated in the service economy, but this is primarily based on his own Twitter polls – which is data, but no scientific data.
There is not a lot of data to qualify that statement, whereas the data is much clearer at the management level.
Eighty-four percent of workers in the United States cite bad management for “creat[ing] a lot of unnecessary work and stress.” Likewise, 57% say their workplace improved considerably if companies gave their management teams better training.
The impact of poor management on a work environment is often a dealbreaker for many workers because putting up with it can be reliably apathy-inducing.
When work doesn’t happen, better management is needed.
It is a profoundly unfortunate situation when 1 out of every 4 American workers dread going to work.
According to a recent poll from JobSage, 28% of American workers have left their jobs in the last two years because of their impact on their mental health.
Surely this is not reducible to management. No major problem is reducible to anything by definition.
However, from the data available, it seems that companies could alleviate much of the current problems concerning insubordination by improving management by training them more efficiently.
The idea that insubordination is fundamentally rooted in laziness is ludicrous: sometimes it is, but most jobs are simply not engaging to most of the people who do them. This is drastically made worse by poor management to the detriment of workers, managers, and companies.