O is for Office

“Get back to work… or risk losing your job!” For months that has been the message from our bosses and the government. Get back to normal! Get back to work! Get back to what…?

If you’re a hairdresser, a waiter, or a brain surgeon, you can point to a tangible end product of your labour. But most of us spend ever-larger parts of our day ticking boxes… We spend more and more of our working lives doing things just to make more work possible. Digging holes in the road to fill them in again.

To put it bluntly: a huge proportion of us either work in bullshit jobs or spend more and more of our time doing bullshit things within our jobs.

“Most people’s sense of dignity and self-worth is caught up in working for a living. Most people hate their jobs. We might refer to this as ‘the paradox of modern work.’” (David Graeber)

It’s obvious that society would quickly collapse without those key workers who supply food, stack shelves, tend to the sick, collect rubbish, do the cleaning…

Our social infrastructures are mostly maintained by people working long hours on shit wages. Lockdown highlighted this perfectly.

But what about the thousands and thousands of accountants, telemarketers, corporate lawyers, PR strategists, HR consultants, brand guardians, compliance administrators and so on? If they all stopped working, who would really notice? “It’s as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs just for the sake of keeping us all working.” (David Graeber)

Most bullshit jobs don’t need to exist at all. They contribute little to human happiness (and an awful lot to our misery).

It gets worse… Some jobs directly contribute to destroying the environment and heating the planet. Let’s call these batshit jobs.

We have to eliminate all batshit jobs. And the bullshit jobs that are needed could easily be automated. We’re stuck with them only because capital needs us to work… and because we need wages to survive.

COVID has had devastating consequences, yet it has also given us a chance to reset the system. To Shut Down… and then decide whether we want to reboot.

Many governments have been forced to introduce furlough schemes, chipping away at the link between “work” and “income”. Calls for a Universal Basic Income (UBI) are getting louder.

UBI is a simple idea: a regular “income” paid unconditionally to everyone, regardless of age, gender, marital status, work status or work history. A simple idea with explosive potential.

UBI would: immediately lift everyone above the poverty line; discourage low wages; give us time to care – for each other and for the world around us; eliminate much of the stress and anxiety of everyday life.

UBI isn’t a fantasy. It’s been tested and, no surprises, it makes people happier, healthier and more confident.

Material scarcity should be a thing of the past. There is more than enough wealth for all of the 7 billion human beings alive on this planet to enjoy a decent standard of living.

With the enormous increase in productive potential, none of us needs to submit to wage-labour. UBI is one way of guaranteeing material security for all. Although it’s not the only way…

Imagine… what we could create… the worlds we could invent…how our relationships could flourish… if the wealth we create in common was shared in common…


David Graeber’s Bullshit Jobs first appeared as a short article before being turned into a full-length book. It’s a brilliant starting point for thinking about the relationship between work and the rest of our lives (while listening to Dolly, of course​). Kathi Weeks’ The Problem with Work takes a more theoretical approach but is an equally thrilling attack on the way that waged work stunts our imagination and limits our life. Bue Rübner Hansen writes about ‘batshit jobs’ in this piece.