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Ask Slashdot: Does Your Job Need To Exist?

Soulskill posted about 6 months ago | from the professional-soap-cleaner dept.

Businesses 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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Obviously (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46968669)

Obviously "work" fills other purposes for the human experience other than pure productivity. Just like the stated mission of school is academic education, but you certainly miss out if you don't mingle.

college has lot's of BS classes that not really ne (2)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 6 months ago | (#46968785)

college has lot's of BS classes that not really need now days but the tech / trade schools have more of skills needed to do the job.

Re:college has lot's of BS classes that not really (5, Funny)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 6 months ago | (#46969095)

There is, apparently, a huge shortage of English teachers.

Re:college has lot's of BS classes that not really (-1, Troll)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | about 6 months ago | (#46969149)

Hey, women are ENTITLED to work! And they're entitled to FOLLOW THEIR DREAMS and get paid to do what MAKES THEM HAPPY!!!

How dare you suggest that employment should be based on what's actually needed? What are you, a communist?

Re:college has lot's of BS classes that not really (1)

Fieryphoenix (1161565) | about 6 months ago | (#46969109)

What do you have against Bachelors of Science??

Re:college has lot's of BS classes that not really (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 6 months ago | (#46969141)

In my last post
BS = Bullshit classes

Re:college has lot's of BS classes that not really (2)

Urquhardt (3529035) | about 6 months ago | (#46969233)

BSc for Bachelors of Science is the usual

Re:college has lot's of BS classes that not really (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46969263)

BSc for Bachelors of Science is the usual

Not in the US nor increasingly in CA (Canada, for those thinking of California).

Re:Obviously (5, Insightful)

Z00L00K (682162) | about 6 months ago | (#46969203)

Some work is in not in a linear form - it can be intense periods broken up with idle periods.

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 - it doesn't matter if you have documentation, sometimes the volume of it makes it hard to sift through - especially if you don't know what you are looking for.

Unfortunately not all companies values the knowledge an employee has and only looks at productivity figures - not the loss of production that may occur when the person isn't there.

That's totally how it works (4, Insightful)

fey000 (1374173) | about 6 months ago | (#46968673)

Yes, because human beings can totally stay 100% focused and productive during the entire day. Unless you're an unethical and lazy communist ofcourse.

I wonder how many CEOs actually believe in this drivel...

Re:That's totally how it works (5, Insightful)

MiKM (752717) | about 6 months ago | (#46968727)

What's worse is that many of those same CEOs probably aren't constantly focused/productive themselves.

Re:That's totally how it works (5, Funny)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 6 months ago | (#46968783)

To an uneducated minion like you it may look like they're they're playing golf and having huge lunches with their buddies.

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.

Re:That's totally how it works (1)

BrokenSoldier (737420) | about 6 months ago | (#46968835)

Sounds like what my brother does as a large accounts manager for Viking Electric. *lol*

Re:That's totally how it works (1)

Urquhardt (3529035) | about 6 months ago | (#46969241)

Or more to the point - Obfuscation through the use of "Weasel Words".

Re:That's totally how it works (2)

pesho (843750) | about 6 months ago | (#46968845)

What's worse is that many of those same CEOs rarely focused/productive themselves.

There, fixed that for you.

Re:That's totally how it works (3, Insightful)

AK Marc (707885) | about 6 months ago | (#46968995)

CEO's don't do *any* "work". They direct. They lead. They don't do. Most management is about control and verification, not actually doing anything. The more managers, the less work done, as the actual workers must spend more time in meetings and reviews and such, and less time doing anything.

Re:That's totally how it works (4, Insightful)

roman_mir (125474) | about 6 months ago | (#46969265)

I am a CEO / chief architect. I built my own software, found my clients, eventually hired employees, trained them, managing them to do useful stuff my clients need and pay for. According to you none of what I am doing is work. Funny, none of my employees know what to do or where money comes from that ends up being payed to them. Lets eliminate my useless job and see what happens to the company in a week.

Re:That's totally how it works (4, Insightful)

khasim (1285) | about 6 months ago | (#46968773)

Not only that but from the summary:

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.

Even if I was focused 100% for an 8 hour day that still wouldn't account for problems happening AFTER work.

Or to put it another way, why aren't fire fighters putting out fires 8 hours a day and then taking 16 hours off (not accounting for lunch and breaks).

Things do not happen on an orderly schedule. Tasks do not perfectly fit the time available.

And who says that browsing the Internet is not helping me be more productive?

This guy seems to have the assembly line mentality. If only the workers would stay focused we could speed up the assembly line by 15%.

Re:That's totally how it works (5, Interesting)

sumdumass (711423) | about 6 months ago | (#46969051)

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.

Re:That's totally how it works (2)

Tom (822) | about 6 months ago | (#46968781)

I wonder how many CEOs actually believe in this drivel...

Too many, because they themselves run on high-octane fuel all day, and the ass-kissers below them take care of their mistakes and fix things so the big boss has false feedback on his own performance. Combined with rather common narcistic or psychotic tendencies, resulting in a lack of comprehension that other people cannot or do not want to work under the same amount of constant pressure, this leads to a dramatic misjudgement of what a regular worker ought to deliver.

I've seen it several times that managers expect their underlings to stay longer, work more, try harder, completely ignoring that they expect the same amount of effort for a fraction of the pay.

Re:That's totally how it works (2)

BeerCat (685972) | about 6 months ago | (#46968945)

"I wonder how many CEOs actually believe in this drivel..."

Too many, because they themselves run on high-octane fuel all day

Except, of course, that they don't run high-octane, as they have delegated everything down to the workforce.

The best bosses are the ones who know that they have delegated stuff, and (even better) avoid the "presenteesim" culture by deliberately knocking off work at sensible times (meaning the workforce can do likewise).

The worst are the ones who really think that they doing all the work (like it was back when they were in charge of a tiny operation), rather than realising that they are now part of a large organisation and have grown the company in order to delegate the workload.

Re:That's totally how it works (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46969055)

You do realize that ethanol is considered a high octane fuel right?

Some can (1)

rsilvergun (571051) | about 6 months ago | (#46969059)

and if productivity keeps increasing they'll be more than enough of the ones that can to go around for the few jobs that're left...

People Aren't Robots (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46968675)

getting 40 hours of work out of a 40 hour week is what robots do

Re:People Aren't Robots (1)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 6 months ago | (#46968841)

Robots get 168 hours of work out of a 40 hour week.

I've Seen It (1)

Jim Sadler (3430529) | about 6 months ago | (#46968681)

I once worked for a company that was always looking at a down hill spiral and could not afford to advance employees or give meaningful wage increases. The consequence was that workers mostly only wanted to work just enough not to be noticed or singled out. The rational thing to do was to pitch in and make things better but the workers almost universally refused to do much on the job. Worse yet some of the management had no clue as to how jobs could be improved or work output or quality improved. It is a shame to see a company that has been around for three decades go to hell in a hand basket.

Just good enough to not get fired (4, Insightful)

swb (14022) | about 6 months ago | (#46968917)

I'm told that's what you get if you're a shitty (in any or all ways) place to work.

The good people will leave. They always have options.

The shitty people without options will stay. The ones who are just good enough not to get fired but not good enough to move someplace else.

Having some time to spare is important (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46968683)

If everyone was "productive" 100% of the day then they would burn out quickly. Having the time to browse the internet or slack off for a while is important. I'd even argue that for jobs that do not involve trivial tasks having these recreational periods helps improve creativity which improves overall productivity.

If (2, Informative)

oldhack (1037484) | about 6 months ago | (#46968685)

If my aunt had balls, he'd be my uncle.

Re: If (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46968779)

Not if your aunt still has a vagina to go with those balls.

Re: If (1)

mooingyak (720677) | about 6 months ago | (#46968809)

Auncle?

Re: If (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46969037)

Blimey! Now that sounds like fun :-)

Burnout (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46968689)

That 20% down time in paying attention is called not getting massive burnout. If everyone stayed on task at all times with maximum efficiency it would just be the pathway to massive turn over as people would lose their minds from stress.

40-hour workweek (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46968691)

WTF is that?

Re:40-hour workweek (2)

petes_PoV (912422) | about 6 months ago | (#46968721)

WTF is that?

About 10 hours too long.

Re:40-hour workweek (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46968905)

Lazy french bastard.

Seems low (2)

petes_PoV (912422) | about 6 months ago | (#46968715)

20% effectively useless jobs? The number seems to be on the low side as in my place there are more than that who have the word manager in their title. When you group them with all the other time wasters and incompetents, it must be nearer 50%, as a lot of those individuals only work to feed each others' roles.

Re:Seems low (5, Insightful)

Tom (822) | about 6 months ago | (#46968743)

Bad managers (i.e. 80% of them): Yes.

Good managers, on the other hand, are worth their weight in gold. Especially if you're a geek and want to spend your working hours with fun tech stuff, someone who handles the office politics for you and maintains your work environment, secures you the resources you need and generally removes obstacles from your path is priceless.

Re:Seems low (3, Insightful)

ATMAvatar (648864) | about 6 months ago | (#46968959)

Sadly, many of the things that good managers take care of are caused by bad managers. One of the many reasons there are so few good managers is that they can get fed up with the bullshit, too.

Re:Seems low (1)

dreamchaser (49529) | about 6 months ago | (#46968997)

Sadly, many of the things that good managers take care of are caused by bad managers. One of the many reasons there are so few good managers is that they can get fed up with the bullshit, too.

That is the main reason I went back into engineering after over a decade of progressively higher levels of management jobs. I have a ton more fun being responsible just for my own work and not having to deal with the BS.

Re:Seems low (2)

gbjbaanb (229885) | about 6 months ago | (#46969173)

that's true. In the flat hierarchy I used to work, we got a incredible amount of stuff done. Customers and other regional offices were amazed, but the trick was simple - let people do what they're good at and cut down the unnecessary drivel and management.

When a new director took over, he changed things so there was a huge hierarchy, and bought in a large project-management office and productivity plummeted so much I couldn't believe how bad it was.

Managers exist solely to feed off the other managers in a self-sustaining spiral of shit, and that's they think they need more of them.

moronic work model (4, Insightful)

Tom (822) | about 6 months ago | (#46968723)

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.

Only if you're an idiot who doesn't understand that downtime is necessary for every job that involves even rudimentary cognitive skills, and doubly so if you want creativity, no matter if it is artistic or problem-solving.

The human brain is not designed to perform at 100% for extended periods of time. It evolved to run on a fairly lazy average level most of the time, and have reserves for bursts in times of need. Then it needs time to recover.

In simple terms for managers: If you condense workload to eliminate low-performance times, your top and average performances drop and you end up with the same or less total productivity.

Re:moronic work model (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46968971)

The human brain is not designed to perform at 100% for extended periods of time.

Designed? So does God have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder too? Since we are designed in His image... it would explain the lack of miracles lately and politicians destroying His works.

Not so much... (-1)

rsilvergun (571051) | about 6 months ago | (#46969053)

there are some people that need significantly less downtime, even a few that need none whatsoever. The heuristics for identifying these people aren't that complex either, which is why companies make you take a personality test when they hire now.

As automation eliminates work you can get by with just these people. Keep in mind they're very, very productive. And thanks to the over supply of labor they don't even cost that much.

No kidding (3, Interesting)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | about 6 months ago | (#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.

PHB's and meetings (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 6 months ago | (#46968739)

PHB's and meetings

How much time is lost to meetings and other filler other then real work?

Meetings set direction (1)

tepples (727027) | about 6 months ago | (#46968855)

On the other hand, see it from the manager's side. How much productivity is lost due to lack of direction caused by lack of meetings to set priorities?

Productivity gains to the oligarchs! (5, Insightful)

mspohr (589790) | about 6 months ago | (#46968741)

The history of the past 30 years has been that all productivity gains from people working harder, etc. have gone to the corporate owners, not to employees. It's not in their interest to work harder or longer because they won't get paid any more.
Slackers unite!

I'm a Slashdot editor (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46968745)

Should I be worried?

Re:I'm a Slashdot editor (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46968831)

I work for Defence. If you want a real waste of money, resources, and work; it's the military, which does nothing to improve life. Unfortunately, it's also needed (on some level).

Re: I'm a Slashdot editor (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46968947)

I was going to mention the military as well.
As a member of the air force I can honestly say I have not done anything of value for years.... But god help us all when I do.

Fiat Currency (-1, Offtopic)

segedunum (883035) | about 6 months ago | (#46968749)

It's amazing what pointless stuff you can pay for with fiat currencies. Hold on to you hats when it all ends because you're going to find a lot of jobs and whole industries simply disappear.

That's why people who pour cold water on unsustainable population growth don't know what they're talking about.

Re:Fiat Currency (0)

canadiannomad (1745008) | about 6 months ago | (#46969235)

The fiat money system at work.. Most people have more debt then assets because tautology.

Work even harder! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46968755)

Has anyone studied the results of everyone giving 110%?

Re:Work even harder! (1)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 6 months ago | (#46968873)

At my previous job, I was in charge of a similar study. Turns out that all you can learn about such a study is how bad some people are at math.

Re:Work even harder! (1)

CheshireDragon (1183095) | about 6 months ago | (#46968955)

burn out then suicide

Sometimes Extra Jobs are Intentional (4, Informative)

JimMcc (31079) | about 6 months ago | (#46968763)

In the early nineties I was Director oif Development for a company that wrote and sold software to small telephone companies. We created a lot of automation into the process which allowed small companies to do much more than their staffing would otherwise allow. One prospective customer was a county owned telephone company. Their first response when we showed them all the features of our softwar ewas to ask if those capabilities could be turned off. Huh? Turns out that they viewed their primary role to be a provider of jobs within the county. Providing telephone service was considered secondary.

So there's nothing really new about these finds. Just that he's getting noticed for writing about them.

Broken window fallacy (1)

tepples (727027) | about 6 months ago | (#46968879)

Turns out that they viewed their primary role to be a provider of jobs within the county. Providing telephone service was considered secondary.

If an organization thinks its role as a buyer of labor outweighs its role as a seller of services, that's when you break out the illustration of the broken window [wikipedia.org] . If the organization's leaders refuse to understand the fallacy they've fallen into, complain to the local newspaper's editor.

Re:Sometimes Extra Jobs are Intentional (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46968889)

I do not remember where, but somewhere out there I once read an article that took the opposite approach:
If you look at all real goods that are produced these days, how many people are involved in this production?

It turned out, that the closest estimate was around 30-35%.

so 60+% of the people do not need to work, without the production of humanity noticably deteriorating.

But our society does not accept that people get to live in houses, eat and sleep warmly and such without some kind of giveback... so we are stuck in working (sometimes (partly) meaningless) jobs.

I hope someone else remembers this article and still has the link?

Re:Sometimes Extra Jobs are Intentional (1)

jemmyw (624065) | about 6 months ago | (#46969177)

Hang on though, what are "real goods"? A teacher doesn't provide any real physical goods, nor does a care giver. Do you count an airline pilot only if the work of creating a good meant that someone had to travel, not to visit their mum and dad?

Re:Sometimes Extra Jobs are Intentional (1)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about 6 months ago | (#46968957)

Yup, western governments tend to have an enormous rump of basically useless and really expensive middle management at all levels. It's a very undesireable state of affairs. I've known government agencies reject temp workers on projects purely because they might potentially jeopardise the fulltime workers' employment.

Do you want to be working 100% of the day doing th (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 6 months ago | (#46968767)

Do you want to be working 100% of the day doing the job of 2-3 people or have at say an 70%-80% day over 2-3 people that gives you room for the unplanned stuff + gives you a way to take some time off that the other people can cover?

Say some boss finds out that you can do work if you give it 100% all day that they don't need the other works and that also ends being that on your time off you are on call to do anything that comes up or that unplanned work is you better have dinner as an delivery as you are pulling at late nigher to day.

Future load; context switching (1)

tepples (727027) | about 6 months ago | (#46968901)

Unplanned work is a good point. Not all businesses can perfectly anticipate future load, especially not businesses with walk-in customers. They need to keep employees on standby to keep customer wait times down in case it gets a sigma or two busier than usual.

For another, if people were to split a responsibility, they'd have to switch between their present responsibilities and the new one, and switching between tasks that require concentration reportedly takes 15 minutes [www.yeap.de] .

All Jobs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46968769)

We could all just go back to being hunter-gatherers.

can only speak for myself, but.. (1)

buddyglass (925859) | about 6 months ago | (#46968789)

I'm off task probably half the day. Somehow I'm still able to be about as productive as my coworkers, who certainly seem to stay on task better than I do. Yay?

Re:can only speak for myself, but.. (1)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 6 months ago | (#46968885)

Yay! [tp-radio.de]

Re:can only speak for myself, but.. (4, Interesting)

BeerCat (685972) | about 6 months ago | (#46968907)

"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.

Optimistic (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46968791)

Graebner ballparks the number of effectively useless jobs at around 20%

This guy's kidding right?
Once you get rid of all the lawyers, politicians, bureaucrats, upper management, middle management you've lost 40%. Simplify financial laws you can get rid of accountants. Stop the war on drugs and "terror" and you can get rid of 90% of "security". Remove the military industrial complex and you can get rid of 90% of the military.
If our society was optimised and we spread the load around we could work 8 hour weeks no problem.

Re:Optimistic (2)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 6 months ago | (#46968895)

You forgot to mention all those useless telephone sanitizers.

If you do this, you don't have enough people (5, Insightful)

Todd Knarr (15451) | about 6 months ago | (#46968793)

The problem is that if you do this, you remove all your slack. If you cut it to just enough people to do the work if they work 100% of the time, the first time someone calls in sick you don't have enough people to do the work. If you get a sudden spike in business because of a holiday or special, you don't have enough people to handle the extra work. If something goes wrong, you don't have anybody to assign to handle it without leaving you short-handed. And that's before you even get to the need for workers to take breaks during the day to avoid burning out.

It's the same problem that's plagued just-in-time delivery of inventory. Sure it saves money to have stock and raw materials delivered just as they're needed. But the moment a storm or a port strike or anything delays deliveries, you're in a world of hurt because you don't have any inventory on hand to tide you over. Sure it's saved you money, but it's made your business much more fragile and the costs of even one shut-down can easily eat up any savings.

And what about those jobs that require 60+ hours? (1)

Isara (869637) | about 6 months ago | (#46968807)

Sure, there may be jobs that aren't filling up full-time (and, as some people noted, who can work 8 hours/day without a break?), but there are lots of jobs that take up more than 40 hours/week. Why aren't those part of the lede here?

There's also something to be said for some level of inefficiency in the economy. Too efficient, and, absent new industries to take them in, we end up with a large population of unwanted workers. Too inefficient and the economy itself gets a bit gummed up. So I can't find myself overly concerned that, taken in aggregate, we're wasting time on the job, so long as the job gets done correctly in the end, and on-time.

12 doing the work of 10 is OK (1)

dmomo (256005) | about 6 months ago | (#46968825)

... seeing that it's twelve getting paid what 8 deserve.

Thank you very much (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46968827)

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Workload is not a constant (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46968849)

This inefficiency is built in to handle workload fluctuations that happen in the course of business. It is cheaper to have someone who is familiar with the business processes on staff instead of bringing in temps or contractors to handle the load.

20% may be right but it is all in the top. (4, Insightful)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about 6 months ago | (#46968851)

Almost all the senior managers, are total time wasters. They either spend time plotting meaningless metrics like, "the user story points burn down rate" or "team velocity" etc. Clueless idiots add up story points from divisions that use 1 story point = 1 engineer day with other divisions using 1 story point = 1 engineer week. They think fixing one bug that was remotely root exploit is 10 time less productive than fixing 10 dialogs with mis aligned text field with radio buttons.

We can easily lop off the 80% of the top 20% of the management, and since they are the one pulling in 80% of the total wages of the company, you might reduce payroll by a staggering 64%. But rest assured, they would rather cut 10 low wage employees rather than let go one of their own, even if that one fired VP can save more money, improve morale and increase productivity.

on the other hand, work-related can be a break (2)

raymorris (2726007) | about 6 months ago | (#46968861)

Several commenters have pointed out that humans don't stay on task 100% of the time, so the question, as phrased, is silly. HOWEVER, if you don't over-specialize, or encourage people to spend a little time on things other than their core job, they can be productive while taking a break from the routine, instead of spending time on Facebook.

For many years, I ran small companies. The companies did web security software and web hosting. A programmer could, however, take a break from programming and spend half an hour on industry related message boards, which was where most of our sales came from. Answering a support call, they might chat with the customer about all sorts of topics (customer relationships are important).

  I've often worked 60+ hours without getting burned out by varying my work. Just for one project I might shop for RAID cards and other components online, customize the hardware with hand tools, assemble the servers, install & configure the OS, write custom software for that server, etc. That way I'm productive almost 100% of the time, but don't get bored like I would in a company where one person does all of the purchasing, another person assembles hardware all day, and another installs software all day.

I now work in a large agency, big enough that you'd expect specialization, but although I'm a programmer most of the time, I'm also invited to participate in other things - long term strategy discussions, designing the architecture of systems other departments are working on, etc. I don't spend any time at work on Facebook. I "slack off" by pitching in on projects that I'm not officially part of, doing work that's different from what I was primarily hired to do.

* Every once in a while, I do look at Slashdot while in my office. Then again, I find work-related news and discussion here, and I also pitch our excellent free cyber-security courses here, so even Slashdot is somewhat productive.

Soon, nearly every job will be obsolete... (3, Interesting)

MindPrison (864299) | about 6 months ago | (#46968863)

...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. :)

Re:Soon, nearly every job will be obsolete... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46969047)

> ...Err...I'm going to stop now, before I embarrass myself.

Given your writing style (or rather lack of it) I think it's a bit too late.

Understaffed (1)

RoknrolZombie (2504888) | about 6 months ago | (#46968865)

Every IT job that I've had has been woefully understaffed. My current job is awesome, but even here we struggle to keep up with the workload.

That's not to say that there's not a fair share of screwing off - as has been mentioned (I'm sure), a brief break helps a lot of people be more productive, not less (of course, as long as it's not done to excess).

At other jobs I *did* spend far more time screwing off, but that wasn't because there wasn't enough work to keep me busy. It was because I worked for a miserable boss in a miserable environment and I was the only IT guy holding the place together. It helped that nobody knew if I was screwing off - after all, Slashdot is a "tech" site, right? Their ignorance was my bliss. But then again, they weren't the ones manning helpdesk phone 24/7 so I don't feel very bad about it.

Not to say that useless jobs don't exist, but I haven't had the good fortune to work in an overstaffed, under-workloaded department.

Guess it depends where you look (1)

Cantankerous Cur (3435207) | about 6 months ago | (#46968871)

I tend to work in production-based environments and everywhere I've worked had too few people trying to do the job of several more. I'm utterly sick of the words 'six sigma' and 'leveraging'.

I understand my experience is anecdotal and statistically insignificant, but it's hard to believe what our dear professor is saying. At least I will agree with him that many of us find our jobs meaningless.

Office Space Nailed It (5, Funny)

Irate Engineer (2814313) | about 6 months ago | (#46968877)

Peter Gibbons: Well, I generally come in at least fifteen minutes late, ah, I use the side door - that way Lumbergh can't see me, heh - after that I sorta space out for an hour.
Bob Porter: Da-uh? Space out?
Peter Gibbons: Yeah, I just stare at my desk, but it looks like I'm working. I do that for probably another hour after lunch too, I'd say in a given week I probably only do about fifteen minutes of real, actual, work.
Peter Gibbons: You see, Bob, it's not that I'm lazy, it's that I just don't care.
Bob Porter: Don't- don't care?
Peter Gibbons: It's a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my ass off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don't see another dime, so where's the motivation? And here's another thing, I have eight different bosses right now.
Bob Porter: Eight?
Peter Gibbons: Eight, Bob. So that means when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. That's my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that, and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.

The good Dr. needs remedial training (1)

stevez67 (2374822) | about 6 months ago | (#46968897)

With a little additional training I'm pretty sure David Graebner could handle, "can I super-size that for you?".

Not about not working efficiently 100%. RTFA! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46968933)

It's about bullshit jobs and bullshit tasks. We as a society basically have a HUGE overhead of dead weight jobs that do nothing of value for humanity. Your job whatever you are doing will at the minimum have tasks or aspects that are harmful or useless. The only people who fail to see this are the ones doing thoroughly useless jobs but can't see it because they play the game aspect of their jobs and believe the praise and dubious rewards they get.

Depends (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 6 months ago | (#46968941)

Am I a slashdot editor? Am I Bennet Haselton?

Hogwash (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46968961)

Most American workers ranks are rather thin lots of us are doing the work of 2 or 3 people.

Yes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46968969)

As long as people require money to be able to live, jobs that could be automated do have a very good reason to exist. I don't think it's a good use of resources, of course, but eliminating large portions of the workforce for greater profits is no real benefit unless it improves overall quality of life for our society. (currently added profit ends up going to people who already have more than enough)

If you are relaxed at work, start worrying (1)

Trip6 (1184883) | about 6 months ago | (#46968979)

Capitalism has a nasty habit of flushing out inefficient organizations, sooner or later. All the worse because we are now on a global scale where virtually every other country suffers a lower standard of living than us - which means they will work for less. If you are relaxed at work or looking for something to do, start worrying.

No, my job doesn't need to exist (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46968983)

If we actually paid any attention to the past 50 years we would have been engineering humanity out of a job, rather than inventing busywork for us to do.

Such as Economist? (1)

bschorr (1316501) | about 6 months ago | (#46969023)

Right...because too many employed people is the biggest problem facing society right now. Oh, wait...

This is already happening (5, Insightful)

rsilvergun (571051) | about 6 months ago | (#46969033)

I noticed it in 2008 when the economy crashed. Companies fired like crazy, and when the economy recovered they only did modest hiring but maintained the same level of productivity.

We're running out of work to do, but we don't have any socially acceptable way to distribute wealth w/o work. This should be fun.

Re:This is already happening (3, Funny)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 6 months ago | (#46969067)

We're running out of work to do, but we don't have any socially acceptable way to distribute wealth w/o work.

Of course not, that would be communism.

Some jobs, but not all jobs (2)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | about 6 months ago | (#46969049)

This would work for some jobs, but not most IT jobs (and not an awful lot of other jobs). For example, I have had jobs (and know of others) that had a lot of downtime during the normal course of events. However, When things got busy, it was urgent that the problem got resolved as quickly as possible. If the company had cut employees so that the staff they had left were busy 100% of the time, when urgent problems arose, no one would have had time to address those problems while keeping the routine that was necessary to keep the company running.
The answer the type of person who does the studies in the article gives is to hire people to deal with those urgent situations when they arise. The problem with that answer is that those people will not know how the system is configured and will have to spend additional time figuring that out. No matter how well documented a system is, it will take someone who works with it every day less time to find their way around then it will someone coming in from outside.

mine doesn't. (1)

Hussam Al-Tayeb (3423459) | about 6 months ago | (#46969081)

it's not like there are many aliens around that need to be killed....

Does Your Job Need To Exist? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46969115)

and of course... This forces one to consider the next question... Do you need to exist?

It's HR's fault... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46969127)

I work part-time, maybe an average of 25 hours a week, make $40 per hour, and am quite happy. When I work, I really work. Most of my 40-hour-a-week coworkers make more money than I do, but they sit on made-up committees most of the day. I figure that bit of hell is punishment enough for their evil ways.

Most people on disability could work fewer hours, but HR a-holes demand that they work full time or "be loosers."

Full-time employees get benefits, so anyone who is sick (and can not work 40 hours per week) or who has kids (and needs to be home) begs for a 40-hour-a-week job.

I've learned to keep a job, I need to tell 2 lies:
(1) I want to work here full time, and
(2) I am not enjoying this.

For some reason, about a month after I openly show my secret enjoyment at work, and stop pretending to be terrified of my boss, I get fired.

I'm not even going to try to collect this into a coherent something.

I will say: HR IDIOTS ARE A WASTE OF O2.

A really good worker "solves" his job... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46969131)

Part of the problem is that really good workers create ways to make their jobs easier. Within a few months at a new job I usually have scripts and macros to do just about everything very quickly. It takes time and knowledge to build those, but once they're done you're in caretaker mode. A good boss will then give you more to do, gradually, while a bad one will complain that you seem to spend all your time on the internet.

Income tax (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46969183)

It occurs to me that if we were rational, we could replace the US system of income tax with a flat tax. That would eliminate every job in the IRS and most accountants, plus the #$@%$ at TurboTax that spent millions lobbying for a more complicated tax code so we would have a harder time doing our own taxes.

It also occurs to me that if we stopped taxing by fines/traffic tickets and also stopped putting people in jail for not hurting any one (e.g., if we ended the "war on drugs,") we could free up a lot more people.

If we made it a crime for a lawyer to do something in a way that make more work for lawyers if that is not demonstrably in the best interest of his/her client, we could free up a lot more people.

If we ended intellectual property corruption (monopolies?) by ending all copyright law, ending all patent law, etc....we could free up a lot more people.

Is it time for a revolution, yet?

Necessary waste (3, Insightful)

radarskiy (2874255) | about 6 months ago | (#46969191)

Let me introduce you to toe concept of "necessary waste".

In your business process, there is some limiting factor that is directly tied to how much you can produce: if had some more of that factor you could produce more, and if you run out you produce less.Maybe it's some machinery for which you can't yet swing the financing to get more units; maybe it's a skill for which there aren't many people tried for yet. If you can't get more, then your next move is to make sure you are utilizing that limiting factor as much as possible.

That means that the other factors that are inputs or outputs of the limiting factor need to be ready and waiting to make sure the limiting factor is never idle. If you are an input you need to have work prepared but your average rate can never exceed what the limiting factor can consume. If you consume an output of the limiting factor you need to be ready to pick up what the limiting factor gives you.

If reduce the labor available for the inputs and outputs then you run the risk of creating artificial limits on your business process. You can actually be less productive when you try to eliminate idleness if you don't know WHY things were idle. Idleness isn't actually your target, it is productivity.

Of course, all of this flies in the face of the slashdot conventional wisdom that management provides zero contribution to productivity.

Most of my job *wouldn't* exist... (1)

Max Threshold (540114) | about 6 months ago | (#46969213)

...if other programmers weren't so fucking ignorant.

Down time can be a goal. (4, Insightful)

Xeno man (1614779) | about 6 months ago | (#46969231)

When work comes in spurts and bunches you can look forward to the downtime in between. It can be a reward for getting stuff done. You can think that if I get this work done, I get a small break after or, if I work harder and faster to get it done sooner, I can have a big break. Think of roofers shingling a roof on a Friday. You don't see anyone standing around, they are on each others asses and by 2:00pm or so they are done the roof, packing up and starting their weekend early.

When you have a constant workflow that never ends there is no real incentive to work harder. You look around and see one guy doing the bare minimum and another guy doing 3 times the work load. Both get payed the same amount and the work never ends. The hard worker might think he is more likely to get a promotion but management thinks if we promote that guy, we would need to hire 3 guys to replace what he does. Lets keep him right there so we can keep our production numbers up.

The worst thing management can do though is fill an employees down time with more work. Basically you have punished a hard working person with more responsibility and work with zero pay increase. Unless you are trying to kill productivity.
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