Arbeit* Macht Bored

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Our very busy man at the Olympia Press and Blackmask takes a rare break from republishing old books and pulps to direct us, via the workaholic Asymetrical Information blog, to this Wash Post story about how nobody's really putting in a full day anywhere.

Who's Patient Zero in underemployed wage slaves? Bruce Bartlett, former deputy assistant secretary for economic policy at the U.S. Treasury under George H.W. Bush:

Bartlett's problem was that he was deputy assistant secretary for economic policy when the president "just didn't care about economic policy, only foreign policy. . . . Because the White House didn't want to do anything, there wasn't anything we could do," he said.

That problem—a lack of autonomy and a job that has very specific instructions—hits workers from the highest to lowest echelons of the working world. Many spend their days surfing the Internet, writing e-mails or taking care of personal business.

Bartlett spent his days writing for academic journals. Boredom has a permanent seat in many workplaces, no matter the level of employee. And people are miserable.

The article goes on to quote various sources who insist that busy workers are happy workers (somehow, The Simpsons' Mr. Burns is not quoted). And that the TSA really is a sack-of-shit outfit.

And whatever happened to Bruce B? Bruce–a sometime contributor to Reason–finally roused himself from his employment-induced stupor and landed in the dog-eat-dog nonprofit world, where he insists, "I'm constantly working," he tells the Post (while working his boss at the National Center for Policy Analysis). "The day goes by so rapidly, it's absolutely amazing to me."

Whole delightful tale here.

IMO, the ultimate commentary on workplace boredom ran on SCTV, which promoed a great show called Turk Gruman, Police Dispatcher: "He came from the cushy world of limousine dispatching to join forces with the NYPD, and now all hell's gonna break loose."

A close second is this Brink Lindsey story in Reason about what went wrong with work. And a distant third is a piece I squeeezed out for Suck during a coffee break that dared to tell The Terrible Truth About Telecommuting. Check them out tomorrow when you're back on the clock.

*: Spelling corrected. Color me Alquilar.

NEXT: Your Tax Dollers Dollars at Work (Gloriously Misspelled Mosaic Edition)

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  1. So, where do you sign up for one of those boring, high paying jobs?

  2. I don’t know what the hell “Arbecht” means, but the gate at Auschwitz read “ARBEIT macht frei”, because “arbeit” means work. I don’t expect German scholars around here, but come on.

  3. My job would be a *lot* less boring if I had more autonomy. My company is growing fast enough where I don’t get to do a whole project myself anymore; now I have to sit around and wait for other people to complete parts of it. Looking busy is quite stressful, actually.

  4. I’m a greedy, capitalist pig to the bone. But,

    All the ills typically associated with Soviet commissariats could be found–in a much less malignant variety, to be sure–in America’s great corporate headquarters.

    I’d grown to believe I was the only one who saw this funny little connection. And it isn’t just the management “style”, it goes deeper than that.

    I’ve worked in big companies and 3-4 person businesses. In smaller companies you know there’s an owner, it’s a fact that permeates everything you do. But bigger companies are owned by “the stock holders”.

    Big companies, in effect, are owned by no one because they are owned by everyone. And corporate boards simply don’t have the back bone that a one-man empire does. Howard Hughes stood up to a congressman, but you rarely see that kind of thing happen with a corporate board.

    Corporate boards are like legislatures. They are full of people manuevering against each other. They can be bought off and corrupted. What’s good for me and what’s good for the long term health of a corporation don’t always coincide…..

    OTOH, corporations offer certain advantages. When you get a raise in a small firm, the owner feels like he’s giving you “his” money, and you usually know it. That isn’t nearly so much the case in a big company.

    The inside of a big company is also much like a mini-city, or even a small country. They hire you to do job x, but hey — details. Don’t like what you’re doing? Look around, what do you want to do? You can work yourself into a new job, or create your own. It really isn’t so hard to do, if you really want it.

    Being able to create your own niche, though, is a relatively new thing. In the older command-and-control corporate structure it was harder or impossible to pull off.

    Interesting topic.

  5. “Arbecht” is almost Yiddish for “undershirt.”

    They’re usually pretty boring.

  6. Before you made the correction, I thought you were referring to Bertold Arbrecht.

  7. If it wasn’t for boring jobs, things would be awfully quiet around here.

  8. Arbeit macht Spass

    (that’s the tasteless joke for the week)

  9. Is there any of Terry Colon’s Suck original art for sale anywhere? QVC, maybe?

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