Management bullshit

As factories in the West have been dismantled, and their work outsourced or replaced with automation, large parts of Western economies have been left with little to do. To be a good citizen in our culture, you need to be a productive citizen. Yet there is less than ever that actually needs to be produced. The answer has come in the form of“bullshit jobs”. These are jobs in which people experience their work as “utterly meaningless”. In a YouGov poll conducted in 2015, 37% of respondents in the UK said their job made no meaningful contribution to the world.

Yet people working in bullshit jobs need to do something. So bureaucracy has gone rampant: there are more forms to be filled in and procedures to be followed than ever. According to a 2014 survey, the average US employee now spends 45% of their working day doing their real job. The other 55% is spent doing things such as wading through endless emails or attending pointless meetings. Many employees stay late at the office to do their “real work”.

43% of all teachers in England are considering quitting in the next five years, the most frequently cited reasons being increasingly heavy workload caused by excessive administration, and a lack of time devoted to educating students. In the healthcare sector: in the UK, 81% of senior doctors say they are considering retiring from their job early; 66% of nurses say they would quit if they could; 57% of GPs are considering leaving the profession. In each case, the most frequently cited reason is stress caused by increasing managerial demands.

Management-speak has seeped into every aspect of life. The NHS is crawling with “quality sensei”, “lean ninjas” and “blue-sky thinkers”. Even schools are flooded with the latest business buzzwords like “grit”, “flipped learning” and “mastery”. Naturally, the kids are learning fast. One teacher recalled how a seven-year-old described her day at school: “Well, when we get to class, we get out our books and start on our non-negotiables.”

Business bullshit allows us to blather on without saying anything. It empties out language and makes us less able to think clearly and soberly about the real issues. But this does not need to be the case. Each of us can simply refuse to use empty management-speak. (Adapted from “Business Bullshit” by André Spicer, published by Taylor & Francis)

I blame business schools for much of this nonsense. They try to wrap up common sense in pseudo-technical or scientific verbiage,designed to make the listener think they are in the presence of an expert. People who spout this garbage arguably lack self-confidence – a knowledgeable and confident person uses the English language (quite full enough of fine words to make most concepts easy to understand). Perhaps bullshit is a way of signalling “I have a first degree in business studies or have been to business school”? Well, if so I am personally unimpressed!  Epicurus would be, too.  Just look at the dense verbiage of modern philosophy!

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