Beware of the labour market: an era of “bullshit jobs”

Millennials and their slightly younger Gen Z counterparts are on a hunt for purpose in an increasingly materialistic world full of ‘bullshit’ middle-management jobs. A demographic of young adults who are unable to climb the housing ladder, supposedly because of their obsession with smashed avocados on toast, have also been crowned the job-hopping generation by the media. But why are millennials the least engaged generation in the workplace and subsequently the most likely to switch jobs?

Warwick has introduced me to the joys of LinkedIn, a site that reflects the crisis young people are facing when it comes to finding a meaningful career. This environment, made up of synthetic connections and vacuous ‘congratulations’, has become one of the most anxiety-inducing forms of social media, with individuals collecting experience after experience to build up a resume of box-ticking. Gen Z are following the path paved by millennials, a generation constantly searching for the next best opportunity, wading through middle-management posts in the hope that one day they’ll find that meaningful job that gets them out of bed every morning.

there has been an exponential increase in so-called ‘pointless’ jobs

David Graeber’s 2013 Article ‘On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs: A Work Rant’, that later inspired his book on the same subject, highlights the job-hopping culture of millennials and Gen Z. Graeber emphasises the shift from industry and farming to a realm of “professional, managerial, clerical, sales, and service workers”, with productive jobs automated away by the growth of technology. As a result, there has been an exponential increase in so-called ‘pointless’ jobs. 

However, while Graeber is right to note that individuals hanker after purpose, I have come to realise that such a fixation on pursuing meaning could also be pretty unhealthy. One of the better things to come out of 2020 was the new Pixar film Soul. Shortly after music teacher, Joe Gardner gets his big break as a jazz pianist, he trips and falls down a manhole, waking up as a soul on an escalator traveling toward the Great Beyond. But Joe refuses this fate and begins a quest to get his soul back into his body. When Joe eventually makes it back into his physical form in time to play his ‘gig-of-a-life-time’, he finds himself surprisingly underwhelmed. It is at this point that he discovers that his life does not need to have a special purpose. Being alive is sufficient in itself.

Joy should also be sought in ‘regular old living’, not just in our careers

Most Pixar films seem to resonate with nostalgic millennials, but the Twitter reaction to Soul demonstrated the extent to which this particular movie made them question their view of life, with one user praising the way it spoke to the ‘post-grad existential dread that our lives lack any meaning’. The film conveys the important message that we should not fixate on finding our one sole purpose in life. 

Now, I don’t think this movie is telling us not to be ambitious, or not to strive for purposeful jobs, but what it is telling us is that joy should also be sought in ‘regular old living’, not just in our careers. If the primary aim of our life is just to carve out a single, meaningful passion that we can pursue and perfect, we may never experience satisfaction. And while Graeber does make an important point about the contradictions of capitalism, he also admits that he can’t present an objective measure of social value. Ultimately, whatever motivates you in life, the most important thing is to not tie your idea of success to someone else’s standard.

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