Is Your Work Meaningless?

Of course it shouldn’t go on. In Pointless Work, the American anthropologist David Graeber quotes Dostoyevsky: “The cruelest form of torture in the world is the compulsion to do endlessly an apparently pointless task.” Meaningful work.” Although theoretically, prisoners sent to Siberia were assigned to do hard labor, according to Dostoevsky’s observations, these jobs were not all that hard, and most peasants did more work than This is much more painful. But when farmers work, at least part of it is for themselves, but in the labor camps, the hard work is hard because the laborers get nothing from this work.

However, how to judge that this is a “meaningless job” is a complex issue that requires careful consideration. Many people may want to do a job that is interesting, somewhat challenging, broadens horizons, has growth potential, not only gives people stable or even objective income, but also status and prestige, as well as a sense of gain in life. If you can find such a job now, you can be said to be lucky. Lucky means few.

Before the birth of the factory system, craftsmen set their own goals and controlled the progress. The result of their work was a personal work, which gave them a sense of accomplishment. This is a game-like structure with voluntary participation, goals, rules, and a feedback system. It can even create a state of flow, bringing joy and happiness to people. The factory system brought new working models and work ethic. In order to pursue efficiency, workers are turned into a part of the machine assembly line. Human personality and emotions are superfluous in maintaining the operation of the machine, and even lower the efficiency. Zygmunt Baumann, a prominent sociologist and thinker, writes in Work, Consumerism, and the New Poor: “The work ethic reform movement is the separation of what people do from what they think is worthwhile and meaningful. Come, separate the work itself from any tangible, intelligible purpose.”

From the industrial revolution to the Internet society, although technology has made great leaps, the labor situation has not changed much. “×× Trapped in the System” is a popular title in recent years, the tangible machine has become an invisible system. Xiang Biao, a professor of anthropology, once mentioned in a speech: “To a certain extent, the takeaway boy and the early assembly line—such as the one in Chaplin’s movie “Modern Times”—workers feel controlled by the system. , there is a strong sense of being squeezed, and there is not much difference between being oppressed.” Xiang Biao’s question to the technology industry is: “How can the subjective consciousness of workers themselves be fed back as a data.” This is obviously not A status quo that can be changed overnight or by workers.

If we are not lucky enough to find a job similar to a “craftsman”, to understand work in the macro context from the industrial revolution to the Internet society, I am afraid that we must first face the reality. According to the “Global Human Capital Trends Report” released by Deloitte in 2019, employees do not feel the meaning of work, which has become a top priority for global managers. Therefore, it is a high probability event that a person feels that “work is meaningless”, and I am afraid that changing a job may not necessarily solve the problem.

Organizational behavior provides more specific explanations and operable solutions when we feel that work is meaningless. Similar to “processes on the assembly line”, the social division of labor is now very complicated, which means that the distance between each occupation and the social evaluation system has become different, and the social evaluation system has a consensus. Li Yuhui, a professor at Renmin University of China, wrote in “Organizational Behavior”, for example, a bus company designed a ticket grabbing software. People in the Internet industry know that it is the result of the cooperation of programmers, interaction designers and other people with different occupations. But a layman would consider this program to be the work of a programmer. Professions other than programmers are far from the social evaluation system, and there is no consensus on professional value. It also has a by-product, no one can monopolize the work results, and the sense of value is further reduced.

In addition, society is now facing a new problem, that is, careers have changed from a step-by-step process to an arc path with no obvious nodes. In organizational behavior, this phenomenon is called “loss of career ladder”. Li Yuhui wrote: “From lecturer to associate professor to full professor, I am a career ladder. The traditional career ladder is a value reference system. Now the corporate structure is too different. Many companies have even canceled the career ladder and are decentralized organizations. .In this case, it is not easy for individuals to find a short-term goal that can be achieved through hard work.”

Will “meaningless work” continue? It may be necessary to put aside subjective feelings and analyze whether this job is indeed the kind of job defined by David Graber in “Meaningless Work”. “A pointless and often harmful occupation of regular wages and salaried employment, which is so pointless or harmful that no one who engages in it can justify it properly. Although it requires a Conditions, that is, the practitioner has to pretend that the existence of this job is completely reasonable.” Or because of social changes, it is not easy for us to find value in it.

The meaning of work should not only be found by employees themselves, but also should be the responsibility of the enterprise. In an interview with this magazine, Li Yuhui said that a company she had researched regularly led its employees to participate in public welfare activities. Employees saw the meaning of their work in the activity, and the profits of the enterprise can help others. Scholars of organizational behavior also put forward the concept of “job remodeling”. Li Yuhui wrote: “First of all, it is necessary to bridge the gap between some occupations and the social evaluation system. The method is to establish a transparent enterprise.” She explained in the article that many people interpret transparency as a public relations event, but it is not. She once communicated with a subsidiary company of Disney Pictures. It used to be that the name of the staff was typed in subtitles after the movie ended, but now, they tend to start scrolling subtitles when the movie is not over or when “easter eggs” appear, and must add Types of work introduced. Movies are a team product, a way of highlighting professional values.

It is also a way to rebuild a similar step-by-step evaluation system within the enterprise. Now many companies are promoting OKR. Li Yuhui wrote: “The personal goals in OKR are very serious. It represents an attitude of the company, that is, I want to help employees find the meaning of work and find the goals that can be achieved in the short term. If the company If you don’t take this matter seriously, you will lose the meaning of OKR, and it is better to get KPI back.”

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