Situations Vacant

I couldn’t help but think about Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) when I read the David Graeber’s book, “Why Bullshit Jobs are Booming”. The book argues that nearly half the working population is in “bullshit jobs” meaning they work in jobs that are pointless but have to pretend that they are important. According to Graeber many people believe that if their job didn’t exist it would make no difference. In fact the world might be a slightly better place.

The book defines five categories of bullshit jobs – flunkies, goons, duct-tapers, box-tickers and task-masters. The last two of these, box-tickers and task-masters, are the two of most interest. These bullshit jobs are exactly what we have ended up with in SNZ; jobs that are pointless; jobs that the world and especially the swimming world would be a better place without.

First let’s look at how Graeber defines the box-ticker’s and task-master’s bullshit jobs. Box-tickers use paperwork to give the appearance of action. They give an organisation the appearance of being busy, of doing work that is not actually achieving any tangible purpose. Task-masters are managers who create pointless work for others or who supervise people who don’t need supervision. They have a tendency to turn real work into bullshit work. In fact task-masters can also manufacture bullshit work by creating new task-masters who in turn give people nonsense to do.

Here is the real point. What we have at SNZ is a classic example of bullshit work. Steve Johns is a perfect living, breathing specimen of a box-ticking task-master. More than that, Steve Johns has had an asexual experience that has given birth to a junior box-ticking task-master, Gary Francis.

Some readers may be asking how we know that SNZ is an example of bullshit at work. What is our evidence? What is there about the way Johns and Francis behave that leads us to that conclusion?

Providing the answers to those questions requires us to look again at the definition of bullshit work. Remember what we said – work that is “pointless but you have to pretend that it is important. Jobs that if they didn’t exist would either make no difference or the world might be a slightly better place.”

That sounds like Steve Johns and Gary Francis to me. How would swimming in New Zealand change if tonight Johns and Francis were no longer there? We would save ourselves more than quarter of a million dollars in wages. But apart from that how would life in your club change? How would your life change? What do you actually get from all the activity that goes on in SNZ? Who benefits from the three million dollars they spend? For all the years I’ve been around swimming my only contact with SNZ has been paying them $100 a year to be a member. I have received no benefit in return. To the best of my knowledge none of the six New Zealand swimming representatives I’ve coached received any benefit from SNZ either. Fortunately their careers did not depend on anything that happened in the Head Office of SNZ. By definition the work of Johns and Francis is bullshit.

You don’t need to spend much time around the SNZ offices to see the bullshit at work. Executive meetings in the Wholefood Café, with clipboards at the ready, are a sure sign of bullshit. Interest earning money is taken from clubs by forcing entries to be processed through SNZ. The only possible motive is to benefit SNZ’s income and that’s financial bullshit. SNZ takes control of recording meet results off the “Take Your Marks” website. SNZ don’t do the job nearly as well as “Take Your Marks” and when they are asked for a swimmer’s national ranking they say they don’t have it and can’t work it out. That is inefficient bullshit. They hide a report on the investigation of a member. Even when they promised the member he could read the report, they cheat on the agreement. That is dishonest bullshit. The one time SNZ was needed to rescue the West Auckland Club from a rogue committee member their response was too little, too late and the club died. That was cowardly bullshit.

Everything SNZ do is aimed at feathering their nest. They don’t work for the business of swimming. They don’t toil to improve the clubs and swimmers around the country. Swimmers and swimming do not benefit by the bullshit that goes on in their Antares Place office. It’s bullshit because what they do is unnecessary. What they do is not needed. Swimming would be better off if Johns and Francis were eliminated altogether. Their every working minute is devoted to finding new ways to take more money off a shrinking membership. But the extra money is used for their personal preservation. And that is classic bullshit.

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