A friend of mind works with a newspaper organization. Whenever we catch up and talk shop, she laments about her work. One particular day, she narrated how her organization works. There are fancy names to roles, she says, like Internal Logistics Manager, but all that person does is transfer files and stuff from one department to the other.

 Don’t you have attenders for that, I asked, for most offices have such staff, to which she replied that these are people who have been rehabilitated from other departments for non-performance or similar issues and who cannot be dispensed off because of their nuisance value. I could just imagine someone doing such kind of boring work day-in and day-out, basically non-essential work. Come to think of it, the moment the management decides that this work or anything similar can be done in less time and at less cost by someone on a lower level, or is clubbed with someone’s existing roles, that person is immediately jobless. What, then, is the significance of such work and why do people do them? You would even go further and ask me how do they do it.

Non-essential work explained

Simply put, non-essential work is all the work that a person does and who can be replaced at short notice and resumed without many skills or training. But the problem is that most of us know we’re doing such non-essential work but won’t dare say that even to ourselves for fear of being replaced by someone who demands less and performs more. We won’t confess to ourselves even because all along we have been showing to everyone else and believing ourselves that our work is very important. That no one else can do it.

Constantly living with the fear of losing our job means that we go on to work longer hours, keep ourselves busy and ensure that everyone sees us doing something while nothing significant is being done. The façade is so brilliantly built that people start believing the pseudo importance of their work, they begin enjoying the built-up stress and the drudgery of it all, forgetting all the while that this is not essential work.

The 2020 Covid-19 pandemic and the forced lockdown exposed these kinds of non-essential work. It even showed what work takes how much time and who (all) can do it with less efforts and less time. So people like the aforementioned ‘Internal Logistics Manager’ were basically rendered redundant in a work-from-home environment. This is not to say that all those who earn a living doing this kind of work need to be laid off or they’re worthless. There are also reasons best known to the management why they (knowingly) allow such roles to existing. Sometimes it’s the person’s past performance that has benefited the organization, sometimes it’s their nuisance value and at other times its just benevolence. I have known some exceptionally talented friends and acquaintances who have been hired for non-essential work in spite of their talent and have later been elevated to plum positions, something we call ‘parking talent’ till they find the right fit. Read more...