The Living Dead (2005) by David Bolchover is a book about people working in offices who do little if anything of use. It’s an examination of how people become unmotivated and disenchanted but remain in jobs of dubious use. These people Bolchover refers to as ‘The Living Dead’.
The book starts strongly with the author describing his own path of increasing pay and decreasing work. Bolchover then looks at how looking for meaning in a job is also critical and that the meaninglessness of much office work facilitates disenchantment. He then describes how nonsense and deceit lead to many living dead jobs with nobody willing to say that the jobs that they do are not worth doing.
Managers are next targeted and the dismal abilities of many middle managers duly mocked. The lack of great ability in the vast majority of senior management is also examined.
Finally the book describes a possible antidote to the rot by contracting out many of the services of large companies to small companies or individuals. Bolchover believes that by paying these smaller entities for what they do, rather than paying people for their attendance in an office better results will be achieved.
The book describes a common condition for employees of large companies and those who work in the public sector. It’s surely true that many people do little and even more do work that is of dubious utility in large organisations.
The recommendations of the book are, however, far less certain. The problems of contracting out things all the time are evident to people who have been involved in contracting things out. Often what is delivered is not what was sought and the company that provided the service has little interest in really solving the problem.
Also, people who do little are often dealt with by organisations that can make them redundant or fire them. Doing enough to get by is probably far more common. The book also glosses over the role of the market in weeding out companies that have too many people doing too little and the way in which companies are often reorganised to dispense with functions of little value. The public sector lacks the market feedback and information to know.
The book is fun and is pleasantly short. Bolchover hasn’t padded it out with needless verbiage. The condition described of people being paid to not do much or at least not nearly as much as they could is certainly common. The conclusions might not be correct but the diagnosis of the disorder is definitely insightful.