I’m starting to read through Roland Paulsen’s work on the concept of “empty labor” for my new project on deliberate rest in the modern workplace, and was impressed by this 2015 article, “Non-work at work: Resistance or what?” (behind firewalls 🙁 alas) Here’s the abstract:
Based on 43 interviews conducted with employees who spend around half of their working-hours on non-work related activities such as ‘cyberloafing’, a typology of empty labour is suggested according to sense of work obligation and potential output in order to set the phenomenon of workplace time-appropriation into a theoretical context in which wasteful aspects of organization and management are taken into account. Soldiering, which emanates from a weak sense of work obligation in the individual, may entail aspects of resistance, but there are also less voluntary forms of empty labour deriving from a lack of relevant work tasks. All types of empty labour are, however, bound up with the simulation of productivity. Therefore, they ironically serve to maintain the capitalist firm’s reputation for efficiency.
I quite like the idea of empty labor as being more than just inefficiency, but rather a “simulation of productivity.”
In my own working days, I find it’s essential to remember that the feeling of productivity– the sense that I’ve got my mind around an idea, that I can see how to finish something– is not the same thing as actually doing the work. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve had to learn that the positive emotional hit that comes during those little a-ha moments are not a substitute for actual words on the page, or things delivered to clients. They’re simulations of productivity, not actual accomplishment.