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Lockdown measures have prompted many office workers to question the future of their occupation. While an increasing number of city dwellers have decided to move to the countryside to get closer to nature, others plan on changing jobs in order to find a position that is more meaningful.

Laetitia Vitaud, a French expert on the future of work and consumption, offers us her insights on some of the issues many of us are currently facing with our jobs as well as several ideas for enhancing well-being at work in these complicated times.

If the global pandemic has raised questions within us about the usefulness of our jobs, it’s a phenomenon that echoes David Graeber’s “bullshit jobs” concept, which dates back to 2013. The American anthropologist passed away last month, putting this term back in the spotlight along with his definition of these comfortable, often well-paid jobs that can seem pointless. His sociological theories gained widespread attention in recent years as many workers found themselves identifying with his writings.

This year the covid-19 crisis has further reshaped the way we work, and for some office workers these shifts have intensified the feelings of uselessness among many.

Here is Laetitia Vitaud’s take on this phenomenon. The co-author of Welcome to the Jungle, Vitaud has also created a newsletter on the future of work from a feminist perspective.

How can we tell if we have a ‘bullshit job’?

David Graeber’s thesis has been somewhat reduced to a cliché about executives working in a City setting and whose jobs seem useless. In reality, “bullshit jobs” extend to numerous sectors, because they mainly rely upon people’s perception.

If for instance you have the feeling that an aspect of your job is meaningless, or if there is a component to what you’re doing that involves “lying” in some form, or if you sell things that pollute the planet or in which you don’t believe, in that case, you may have a “bullshit job.”

What kind of professional practices should we be wary of to avoid falling into a ‘bullshit job’?

In reality, the concept of “bullshit jobs” depends less on the mission or the position we are in than the conditions in which we work. For example, a company governed by poor organisation in which there are endless streams of meetings or “paper-pusher” tasks could feature a mass of “bullshit” jobs.

And even those working in professional categories deemed useful to society are no longer exempt from these types of paper-pushing tasks. Caregivers and teachers, for instance, now have many administrative documents to fill out and thus have less time to devote to their primary function.

What are the essential criteria for well-being at work these days, especially considering the health context?

In the past, in France at least, we used to sign a “labour contract,” meaning that our job was not necessarily fascinating but it entailed many compensations (vacation, good pensions, the prospect of social advancement for future generations, etc).

But in recent decades, these compensations are being eroded. As a result we are increasingly questioning hierarchies, repetitive tasks, as well as the detrimental consequences of several industries on the environment.

All these criteria are relevant when pursuing well-being in the professional sphere. We can achieve it in various ways: with digital transition, or seeking more autonomy by becoming self-employed for instance.

I find the question of autonomy fundamental: If every company implemented more ways for employees to achieve autonomy, we would see more gender equality in workplaces.

This would also lead to a profound questioning of hierarchical statuses… which would at the same time reduce “bullshit jobs” within companies. Because when you function independently, only the “real” work counts.

Does working from home play a role in this search for autonomy?

It does. Working from home can genuinely contribute to the gain of independence while working. If you are a parent of young children, for example, you may be forced to take part-time work to look after them, especially if you are a woman. Whereas with working from home, it is much easier to manage your schedule.

In France, unfortunately, on the corporate side many are still reluctant to implement remote working, although many employees would find it useful. In order to function efficiently, working from home has to integrate more horizontal management policies, a system that is still rare in many places. 

-malaymail

After staying at home for a long time during the MCO, many Malaysians are looking forward to going back to their daily lives. However, Dr. Jemilah has said that all of us will need to adapt to the new normal and we will have to live alongside Covid-19 until a vaccine is found.

Although we can all argue that staying at home might be the best thing to do, we still need to get back to our workplaces and children need to go back to their schools at some point in time. Business Insider spoke to Dr. Susan Hassig, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans about the risk levels of everyday activities.

Although different activities have different risk levels, wearing a mask and maintaining social distance can decrease one’s chances of getting the virus.

HIGH RISK: Gathering with friends and family

This activity is okay if you have been living with this group for quite a while but if you haven’t then it’s quite risky as you have no idea where the person has been to or who they have come into contact with. It is also highly unlikely that anyone who attends one of these social gatherings will wear a mask and social distance.

HIGH RISK: Bars

Dr. Susan said that bars should not be reopened as it is a place which involves a lot of mingling around and it’s not like anyone can wear a mask while drinking.

HIGH RISK: Religious functions

Places of religion are often packed with people with more advanced age and for some religions, there might be rituals that involve handshakes, any physical contact or eating. However, the risks can be lowered by social distancing, wearing a mask and also from abstaining from the aforementioned types of rituals.

HIGH RISK: Cinemas & sports events

Cinemas and sports events are high risk as they involve a large number of spectators. Imagine a group of people waiting outside the cinema hall or outside the stadium so that they are able to get in. When they finally do, all of them will be in an enclosed space.

MEDIUM TO HIGH RISK: Gyms

Dr Susan says that to lower the risk of infection at gyms, gym-goers should wear a mask whenever possible and all the equipment should be sanitised BEFORE and AFTER an individual uses it. In addition to that, strict social distancing should be implemented.

MEDIUM RISK: Indoor dining

The doctor says that indoor dining might be a little risky considering the air ventilation and that the restaurant personnel had been in the same enclosed space for hours. To reduce the risks, one can wear their masks until their food arrives and restaurants should be wary of high-touch items such as menus.

MEDIUM RISK: Hair and nail salons

In this industry, wearing masks is essential as it helps to block any particles when someone speaks, coughs or sneeze. It also helps to prevent someone from touching their faces. Employees in this industry should always keep their hands clean.

MEDIUM RISK: Dates and small gatherings

This is the same with large friends and family gatherings. For dates/ one-on-one meetings, what also comes into play is geography. As an example, if the person lives in a place where there is a high concentration of cases (e.g. Pedas) then, of course, there is a high risk but if they live in a place with a low number of cases (e.g. anywhere in Perlis) then the risks are definitely lower.

LOW TO MEDIUM RISK: Beaches

Social distancing on beaches can help to reduce the risks but as they are open areas, it might be hard to control crowds.

LOW RISK: Outdoor dining

Dining outdoors would be great if there is social distancing between tables. The ventilation outside will be better as well, however, diners should be careful of high-touch items such as menus and condiments.

LOW RISK: Outdoor activities

Doing outdoor activities solo or within the group of people you have been living with is fine. You would also need to keep social distancing from the other people at the park/ hiking trail. Meeting up with your buddies outside of your household will need more precautions.

LOW RISK: Retail shopping

Shopping can be low risk if you keep your distance and wear a mask. Fitting rooms should be closed, however, if they are open, any unbought articles of clothing should be quarantined or sanitised first. Dr. Susan says the place with the highest risk of infection in a store is at the cashier where social interactions happen.

LOW RISK: Touching mail or groceries

The doctor says there is a low risk of catching the virus from touching your mail or groceries. She said that she would not personally wipe and sanitise all her groceries but if you’re worried then you can keep non-decayable things in the bag for a few days before using them. However, she warns everyone to be extremely cautious with things like doorknobs and elevator buttons.

There we have it, the most important thing anyone can do now is to stay at home if you can and if you are not able to then you should definitely adhere to the SOPs. 

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