More than a third of British workers say their job is making no meaningful contribution to the world – but most of them aren't looking for another one
Earlier this year workers in London were greeted on their morning commute by signs bemoaning the meaninglessness of much of modern employment. One read: "It's as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs for the sake of keeping us all working." Another: "Huge swathes of people spend their days performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed." No one knows who put the signs up, but the quotes were taken from a 2013 article in STRIKE! magazine that did well at the time.
New YouGov research has sought to verify if the attitude expressed in the article is as prevalent as it says.
37% of working British adults say their job is not making a meaningful contribution to the world. Half of British workers (50%) say their job is meaningful, and 13% are unsure. Men (42%) are more likely to say their jobs are meaningless than women (32%).
Despite this, most people with 'meaningless' jobs say it's unlikely they will change jobs in the next 12 months (53%, compared to 35% who say they might change jobs).
The survey also asked if British workers find their jobs personally fulfilling, and a similar portion (33%) say they do not. 63% say their job is fulfilling, although only 18% say it is very fulfilling.
Londoners are the most likely regional grouping to say their jobs are unfulfilling (41%), while the Midlands and Wales have the highest levels of job fulfilment (67% fulfilled, 26% not). Working class people are slightly more likely than middle class people to say their jobs are unfulfilling (39% compared to 30%).
So many introductions at social occasions begin with a conversation about work, but only 49% of British workers say they’d be proud to tell someone about what they do when meeting for the first time. 8% say they’d even be embarrassed, 41% say neither.
David Graeber, author of the STRIKE! article, calls the phenomena of meaningless work “bullshit jobs”. He argues that by now we were supposed to be working fewer hours on fewer days of the week, as technology automates production. But this hasn’t happened – instead, he says, there are new industries that are in themselves not very socially useful, and more jobs designed merely to administer, support and secure them.
In 2014, YouGov found that 57% of British people supported the introduction of a four day working week.