Recently at my work we had an intern. I was tasked with giving her some of my work to keep her busy. In theory, this would reduce my workload as well, since she was doing it. In practice, I had no motivation to make sure she was doing things well. In a month she’ll be gone, and I’ll be doing this myself again, so it doesn’t matter if she does a great job or a crap one, as long as it isn’t too screwed up for me to recover afterward. So I gave her a quick crash course, she spent an hour “being busy”, and afterwards I threw away all her work and redid it the way it should be.
Because it was easier than training her fully, and it doesn’t matter anyway.
I suspect a lot of office work follows this pattern. People do work they don’t need to do simply because it’s easier for a supervisor to let them do it, and it doesn’t matter because there is plenty of surplus labor available at the office. When one of my co-workers moved away a couple months ago she trained me in taking over a few of her duties. After she left the Director above both of us told me to simply not do about 70% of that. It wasn’t used for anything.
This is how we have “jobless recoveries”. When there is a recession and a corporation doesn’t have excess income to pass around they can drop 20% of their work force and not lose any productivity, because 20% of the work was useless anyway. There is no need to rehire those employees after the recovery.
On the one hand, this is pretty horrifying to my capitalistic side. This is NOT how capitalism is supposed to work dammit! It’s supposed to be lean and mean, where waste is rewarded with bankruptcy! On the other hand, it’s kinda comforting for my socialistic side. These corporations are miniature welfare states, helping the public by providing unnecessary jobs for the unemployed out of their excess profits. They only shed these welfare jobs when forced to by a tightening market. Yes – they’re doing so unwittingly, and only because of human laziness. And it is ultimately inefficient and detrimental to economic growth. But it’s still kinda cute.