Dennis Nørmark & Anders Fogh Jensen
Less than a hundred years ago leading economists, thinkers and social planners all thought we were on the brink of a “leisure society”. Maybe even a work week as short as 15 hours! But needless to say, that didn’t happen, even though we did everything that these thinkers thought we would do: Invent efficient machines, work smarter and ultimately getting rid of thousands of dull and repetitive jobs. And most of these thinkers didn’t even think of outsourcing to faraway countries, or the invention of the internet, smartphones and all the other things that have given us so much more time on our hands. So, what happened? Why do we still work so much?
In their provocative bestselling book Pseudolabour – how we ended up being busy doing nothing a philosopher and an anthropologist, each from their own field and each from two opposite positions on the political spectrum , try to answer this riddle and their answer is as surprising as it is tragic: we ended up inventing work we really didn’t need, just to act busy, fill out time and inflate our own importance. We have done this with all the best intentions in the world.
Inspired by research done by contemporary sociologist, business experts and anthropologists the writers look both through the numbers that indicate that something has gone terribly wrong in our organizations, and they flesh it out by interviewing the people who themselves think that their entire job or, large parts of it, has become utterly meaningless. Through these interviews the authors investigate the reason why we make up so many pointless tasks to ourselves, and why so much of this “pseudolabour” develop and expand in staff positions such as HR, communication, compliance, quality assuring, consultancy and in the ever-growing number of administrative functions and bureaucrats.
The book is written as an investigation. A journey into absurdity, where the authors also admit their own guilt in creating and maintaining pseudo work, in their pasts, as consultants. Throughout this captivating journey the reader meets with researchers and hears from people who have either invented pointless tasks themselves or are the victim of other people’s absurd work demands in organizations, public as well as private, where everybody seems to have lost the overview of why we are doing what we are doing.
The two writers also investigate what actually has happened to our work throughout history and how we ended up in this tragic place. They ask they deep philosophical questions about what work actually is and why the human species seems to be trapped in a treadmill of tasks that apparently have lost their economic, functional and human purpose.
We hear from the communications officer who almost lost his mind at the attorney’s office where everybody is staging how busy they are, we meet the marketing VP who invents projects for his staff who create marketing analysis and phony reports nobody will ever read, because there is nothing to do in the first two months of the year. We meet the doctor who manipulate a computer to send nonsense letters to other doctors, so he is able to do his real job, we meet the managers who know that they themselves, and their staff, spend half of their day in useless meetings and we meet with people who write annual reports and reviews they know nobody ever reads.
But we also hear from the organizations who have had enough. We hear about pioneering companies who have successfully implemented a four-day work week and organizations who have simply trashed all the bureaucracy and the obsessions with rules that prevented their employees from thriving. Companies that have shown that the idea that enhancing productivity is done by putting in more hours, is a thinking that belongs in the past.
Pseudolabour is a radical critique of the way we work today. At critique of the stressful idea that we need to be busy that stands between our work and our growing suspicion and realization that work has become absurd. The book is inspired by work of academics who have done research in “functional stupidy”, “bullshit jobs”and “empty labour” such as professor Mats Alvesson, professor David Graeber and associate professor Roland Paulsen, but Pseudolabour has created its own take on the phenomena, has unique interviews and explanations of why so many of us continue to work this way.
Furthermore, this book also proposes solutions to this problem. Both on an individual level, on a managerial level and on the level of society and politics. In this way it is a book that insists on empowering and enlightening the reader at the same time, giving explicit advice on how to resist, challenge and change the phony nature of our labour and insist on real value creation.
A cornerstone of the book is that work as such is a necessary part of the human reality, but in the 21st century we have distorted work to mean only something we pay each other to do, and thereby we have lost the real meaning of what work is: something that is of real use and change things around us for the better. Hence, we have thousands of people on a global scale doing useless tasks though there is still a need for actual work that can help us with our current problems as a human society. Real meaningful work that can help us develop and invent the creative solutions that has helped the human species in the past, but which have stagnated over the last hundred years, because administration, supervision and management overshadowed research, development and exploration.
With a sale of more than 10.000 copies in Denmark the book has created a radical debate about work both in the public as well as the private sector. Pseudolabour has inspired a large range of people from employees, to senior managers and CEOs to consider if real value creation has been lost in the complex hall of mirrors that so many modern organizations have become. After the book was published many “pseudo workers” in Denmark have come out of the closet and told their story, making the book a real driver for a national movement against pointless jobs. Pseudolabour is a mix between an investigative story about our work, a management book and a bipartisan political manifest and it covers it’s funny, tragic and fascinating topic like no other book has done it before.