PeakJobs: Five Reasons why HR should be considered a Bullshit Job (circa 2013/2022)

Posted: November 19, 2013 in Human Resources
Tags: ,

David Graeber (twitter handle, now deceased) wrote an article On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs. In that piece he argued that productive employment had decreased dramatically, either by automation or offshoring to be replaced by non-productive or bullshit jobs. So rather than wake to a 15-hour week and plenty of leisure time, as Keynes predicted what we have achieved, largely due to technology is almost a 24/7 mindset to work. Even the unemployed are uber-busy.

The Week published a good follow-up piece which outlined three main industries which are prime bullshit jobs examples. They were Finance, Health, and Education. Yet when you read the original piece by David Graeber he actually states:

But rather than allowing a massive reduction of working hours to free the world’s population to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions, and ideas, we have seen the ballooning not even so much of the “service” sector as of the administrative sector, up to and including the creation of whole new industries like financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors like corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources, and public relations. And these numbers do not even reflect on all those people whose job is to provide administrative, technical, or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza deliverymen) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones.

These are what I propose to call “bullshit jobs.”

Historically, David Graeber is on to something when he points out that Human Resources is a bullshit job. It is a new phenomenon. You need only look back at Major Hitchcock dealing with the unions in 1959 in I’m All Right Jack to see how the role of HR has evolved and expanded over the past half a century (with back-in-the-day time and motion studies included).

I’m reminded of a conversation I overheard in the late 1990’s when a large Australian corporation got rid of its HR department. When questioned by one of the line managers the C-Level responded that the manager could ‘manage’ his staff and would be supported by the finance (pay) and legal (IR) departments, or he could find employment elsewhere and the recently sacked HR manager would be offered his job.

That manager subsequently shut up, kept his job and the company went on without too much issue without its HR department.

The question then is HR a bullshit job?

Here are 5 reasons why Human Resources should be considered a bullshit job:

  1. Like payroll in the 1980’s which was heavily automated (mainly via ERP) most of the HR functions can now also be shut-down, automated, outsourced or reduced and managerial functions returned to the managers. Laurie Ruettimann wrote in 2013 that 99% of the HR department can be automated (she has deleted that post & I did not save it back in the day). I’ve seen it done now in two companies, generally with productive functions placed in other departments (Payroll to Finance, IR to Legal, a small recruitment team which answers to Operations and so forth) and little to no organisational impact. If a bullshit job is defined as a service sector that has become an administration service (a bureaucracy) then HR is a prime candidate.
  2. The labour force is changing but HR is mired in the past. The day’s when you needed a HR department to look after your full-time workforce is now being replaced by an increasing amount of contingent and contracting staff which are managed by Finance, or automation and robots which will be management by a Programme Management Office. Full-time work is being outpaced by part-time work, contingent work, or automated replacement. Another good piece by Laurie Ruettimann has been deleted by history.
  3. As pointed out recently by Bernard Marr, the HR department serves two masters. That is ‘they are there to provide support for the employees and, on the other hand, they are there for the company and the senior management to help manage (and monitor, discipline, appraise, etc.) employees’. This is an obvious conflict of interest, and most HR people would recognize that they would support the company over the employee in most cases. A case of two jobs executed poorly or just one job and the other ignored.
  4. Organisations and employee’s need to be agile. I’m hearing this consistently of late. What they actually mean is organisations need to be able to hire and fire people easily and employees should just suck it up. Actually, we seem to now be living in an age with competition so fierce from newly industrialised countries that our politicians now tend to agree with them. So, if we are going to have a freer labour market, why do we need a heavy bureaucratic burden to administer it?
  5. Getting rid of HR will get rid of other rent seeking sectors that leverage of a known bullshit job. If you accepted that HR was a bullshit role, you could also rid yourself of the education facilities that provide specific, often legislative training and replace it with more critical thinking courses such as Business, Law or Social Science (study types which could also be considered as bullshit areas). You could also get rid of the professional bodies and the consultants who support HR.

I actually have a lot of time for HR (and a lot of friends and colleagues who work in the sector) but as a society we should look much harder at everything we do and the value that we add to our organisation, our community and the world.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that HR can totally avoid the bullshit job tag.

What do you think?

Thank you for your interest in Peak Jobs. I do another blog called Random Analytica. My story is about mefloquine. You can read all about it at  Mefloquine Dispatches .

  1. […] PeakJobs: Five Reasons why HR should be considered a Bullshit Job […]

  2. Annette McBrawley says:

    You overuse the word “actually” and improperly use the apostrophe to the point that I was distracted from the actual message.

  3. Minuteman says:

    You misspelt “defense”. And it’s been a little less than four months ago.

    Other than that I thought your piece was well written and any typographical typographical errors or style quirks did not affect the validity of what you wrote.

    I understood everything you communicated, which was probably your primary goal. Mission accomplished, job well done, the Grammar Gestapo notwithstanding.

  4. Andy says:

    HR is total bullshit. You only have to look at the made up HR questions in an interview that make no sense whatsoever. The same 5 questions spouted over and over…’what do you think of working here…what does XXX mean to you?….where do you see yourself in 5 years time..blah blah blah” its all fekin nonsense and is simply put in as a way of HR protecting their jobs, like they are needed.

    HR is a total bullshit job, it sets general targets and spouts crap when half the jobs simply don’t comply with a need for HR at all. Ive seen people go for design jobs and asked the same HR questions in an interview and yet not even asked if they can use Photoshop!!

    • Vickie L. Lowell says:

      I agree with you totally. I have worked in HR for quite some time, and my friend in college was correct when he said I should not go into HR because my “Bullshit-o-meter” was too low. HR keeps pushing more bullshit stuff to try and make themselves relevant, and yes most of the questions asked in an interview are complete crap too. I have been trying to jump out of that boat for awhile, not very easy to do. Will keep trying though.

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