Do redundancies bring freedom or penury, wonders Tom Hodgkinson
It’s difficult to know whether to cheer or sob when you read that Centrica, the British Gas owning corporation, is about to lay off 5,000 middle management staff. It’s possible that many of these positions were what David Graeber has called “bullshit jobs”, and that those made redundant will go on to forge themselves more satisfying work lives. Perhaps they will even be free!
However, when I express such sunny sentiments concerning mass layoffs in my newsletters, I can count on a swift rebuke from my friend John Harris, the brilliant Guardian journalist: “Free? Free to go to food banks, you mean!” he will write. The loss of a livelihood will mean misery for many.
John may be right, that the world would be a better place if these jobs had not been shed. But I cannot help holding out hope for a more sane world of work, one where we have more autonomy and more free time, and we are less stressed out by corporate politics. The answer would surely lie, as Prof Brendan Burchell has suggested, in a more part-time culture. And since many people will have enjoyed the leisure time and autonomy they’ve experienced during lockdown, and will be reluctant to go back to their old full-time ways, the desire to create new ways of working may well now be there.
These comments were mailed to us after the above piece was sent as a newsletter. We like to publish a selection and reserve the right to edit them for clarity. Feel free to drop us a line with your thoughts.
I have the greatest possible respect for John Harris. I believe the Anywhere But Westminster documentaries, which Harris created with John Domokos, are the finest contemporary history of these isles. Nevertheless, studies such as this one do seem to indicate that you are right and he is wrong when it comes to corporate redundancy. There will, of course, be exceptions and downward spirals, but most people maintain an unhappy status quo until they are forced to make changes. Once they do, they are liberated towards a happier life. Conversely, the people who aren’t made redundant are often less happy 12 months later as they have more work (picking up the slack of departed colleagues) whilst living in fear of the redundancy programme they survived recurring.
– Guy Brasher
I echo your thoughts about the world of work and corporate layoffs. I am quite sure that one of my goals is to remind people that life is not supposed to be about working so much! It’s mad. If enough of us idle, I hope that future generations will also live happy and free, enjoying a lot of leisure time. We have to hold onto this dream! We have to awaken the belief systems that show that it’s possible!
– Kristina Wirz
I recently escaped from my particularly hideous corporate job and I thought it would amuse you to know that whenever I am approached by a headhunter I now tell them I am having time off, that I highly recommend it and that, more importantly, I think they should have a break too. Then I recommend that they buy How to be Free. Hoping to induce mass corporate rebellion!!
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