Kafka, Graeber and the intriguing HR question

Kafka, Graeber and the intriguing HR question


Never has your life felt more Kafkaesque – you’ve filled out hundreds of forms, answered a thousand trivial questions and jumped through more hoops than a show dog. And all for a few measly pennies from the government.

This is the subject of anthropologist David Graeber’s latest book, The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy. Breaking through more red tape than a bureaucratic ticker tape parade, Graeber examines our love/hate relationship with faceless systems of paperwork.

You might not have experienced the nightmares of Josef K with the government, but even high-flying business professionals have to endure something far worse – human resources.

Indeed, these are the bureaucrats of the workplace, sending out countless emails and negotiating seemingly endless reams of paperwork.

The Utopia of Rules- On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy

Taking humanity out of HR

They themselves fall into the trap of the Kafka nightmare. Taking the human element out of human resources, they sit stranded behind a computer screen. Any element of building relations between employees is lost beneath a world of signatures and compliance forms.

While a certain amount of admin is to be expected in a job that’s keeping wage slips in check and ensuring entire workforces stay ticking over without trouble, the rigmarole of paperwork diminishes an HR professionals’ personal connection with employees to zero.

Yet the world of HR has moved on since the days of filing cabinets – now technology has finally caught up with the needs of business.

Software to improve business

HR software, which used to be little more than a glorified spreadsheet, has come into its own for the past few years.

Beyond the usual forms and employee records, the cream of the software crop tracks attendance records, incorporates Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), makes payrolls a cinch, utilises Cloud technology and does so with an ease that you’d never find in a shoddy Windows XP build.

Cutting edge builds even function on smartphones, allowing HR staff to move around the office as they update files.

You’ll never quite be able to cut down on paperwork, but newer tech will allow a large amount of repetitive input to be automated and tracked, leaving room for more important issues.

Graeber states that there’s good reason for the bureaucratic norms in society. Without them, we’d reside in a chaos that few of us could stand. The same idea applies to workplaces, in which a professional environment must be nurtured.

With the progression of technology workplaces are emerging from the shackles of paperwork and learning to communicate openly once again. Let’s hope the Kafka nightmare doesn’t re-emerge.