I Asked People If Their Jobs Were Pointless. Oh My God, the Replies
Sample: “The entire process took 10 minutes, and completed my entire week’s worth of work. With my free time, I would just sit there browsing Reddit.”
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Inspired by David Graeber's new book, Bullshit Jobs: A Theory, I asked a lot of people if their jobs were pointless.
If they answered "No, my job has a point, thank you very much," I had a follow-up:
Well, have you ever had a pointless job?
Because Graeber says as many as 40 percent of workers will answer that question with a resounding yes.
The answers I heard? Basically a bunch of resounding yesses. Here are 10 of them, plus a bonus.
1. I got paid to read business books.
"My job was to prepare reports for meetings. I had to go through a few steps online, then print them out and staple them. This process took me between 30 and 40 minutes, three days a week, but I was paid a salary. I asked [my boss] what to do with my extra time, and she said I could read business books. I literally read books for nine months."
--Bill Fish, now the co-founder of Tuck.
2. I sold $5 watches for $100+
"My first job was selling watches to tourists at the Swatch Store: $100+ a watch that costs less than $5 to make. The lack of mental stimulation was draining. I had a manager ... who had been working [there] for 10 years. I do not know how he did it. He was always trying to suggest that we go hiking or some other date-type activity. Needless to say, I got the hell out of there."
--Nadine Argueza, Harden Communications Partners LLC
3. I was an attendant at an automated car wash.
"[W]hen I was a teenager, I worked at an automatic car wash. We were completely unneeded. ... I think our boss just didn't want to leave the car wash unattended. We even had the gall to ask for tips. I made $80 in tips one night doing absolutely nothing."
--Chad Zollinger, chief editor of the Debt and Tax blogs at Best Company
4. My job was to enter obsolete information into a database.
"I was given a zip code and I had to look up cell phone or cable plans within that specific market, and add the details to a Microsoft Access database. Nearly everything you input would be out of date after a certain amount of time. Once I saved my information, I had no idea where it went or who reviewed it."
--Lou Haverty, of Financial Analyst Insider.
5. I was the on-site assistant to an executive who traveled constantly.
"I worked for the president of a holding company and I had SO MUCH FREE TIME. I was really a personal assistant and had full days with nothing to do. However, I was earning more than I ever had, so I figured out ways to keep myself busy."
--Regina Rodrguez-Martin, manager at The Shift.
6. Consulting on a project I knew was doomed.
"This was a well-compensated consulting gig, and the client was a medium-sized hospital in Texas. They engaged us to help them build a Medicaid plan for very ill children. This was a pointless job because we knew that it would fail. ... My boss at the time said: 'It's like being a defense attorney and knowing your client is guilty.'"
--Chris Lee, founder and career consultant, Purpose Redeemed
7. Pushing paper for a digital business.
"Pointless jobs were my only jobs for a few years. I worked for Countrywide Home Loans in college, ... Stuffing envelopes, opening mail, filing paper. ... I went to the office everyday wondering why in the world all of this wasn't digital."
--Prudence Limphaibule, Virtuity Financial Partners
8. Writing bullsh*t citations
"[I was] a citation inspector for Baltimore City. I would spend all day patrolling poverty stricken neighborhoods ... writing citations for uncut grass, uneven side walks, unsecured trash cans, and boarded up windows. It felt absurd. Nobody I was writing citations for had the money to pay and it felt counterproductive."
--Evan Roberts, founder, Dependable Homebuyers
9. I stood in a small room and ran a shredder.
'I was a pre-med student with aspirations of becoming a doctor. I took a job at a local hospital. ... The supervisor told me that my duties would include shadowing nurses and doctors. [But], they just had me shredding stacks and stacks of paper in a small room away from the main areas of the hospital. [Also], it was a shredder that was built for home use instead of industrial use, so it could only handle a few sheets at a time."
--Jesse Harrison, CEO, Employee Justice Legal Team
10. I pressed a button to run a macro.
"I used to work at an online electronics retailer as part of their, analyzing lots of SEO data. It was completely pointless. Within the first week, I made my own Excel macro that automatically processed all of the data into a fancy document I could read and send to my boss. The entire process took around 10 minutes and completed my entire week's worth of work. With my free time, I would just sit there browsing Reddit."
--Neil Andrew, founder, PPC Protect
Bonus: I walked the floor.
"During one college winter break, I got last-minute job at a clothing store. The manager was just doing me a favor by hiring me, really--paying minimum wage, but not teaching me to do anything except greet customers, since I was only going to be there a short time. They just wanted me to 'walk the floor,' for eight hours a day, which might have been the most bored I've ever been. I think I lasted two days."
--Bill Murphy Jr., Inc.com