Nearly a fifth of workers think their jobs are pointless, Swiss study finds

Nearly a fifth of workers think their jobs are pointless, Swiss study finds

A new study by the University of Zurich has found that a significant number of workers believe that their job or occupation is “socially useless.” Experts at the Swiss university concluded that many in the banking, financial, sales and management fields believe that their careers are of little or no use to wider society.

19 percent of people think work is pointless, Swiss study finds

From overtime slogs to unwanted emails after working hours, for many work can feel like an unappreciated Sisyphean pursuit. Now, a study conducted by Simon Walo at the University of Zurich has finally revealed whether employees feel their work is useful or not.

To create the report, published in the journal Work, Employment and Society, Walo used data from an American survey of 1.811 staff working in 21 different professions. In the survey, workers were asked whether they feel like they make “a positive contribution to society” or think they are “doing useful work.”

In all, around 19 percent of respondents said that they “never” or “rarely” feel like they are doing useful work. This was most prevalent among employees working in the finance and sales sectors, who are twice as likely than average to think that their work is socially pointless. This phenomenon was also more prevalent in managers (1,6 times more likely than average) and regular office workers (1,9 times). 

Those working in the private sector were also found to be less fulfilled than people who work for the government or in non-profits.

Value of work tied to inter-personal factors

However, Walo explained that one’s field of work is only one of the many influencing factors at play, noting that adverse social interactions at work, alienation from colleges and poor working conditions all contribute to someone’s perception of the usefulness of their job.

Walo made the point that more research needs to be done into why people believe their jobs to be useless, noting that, unlike previous studies, he believed that "pointless" careers are more perception than reality. He concluded that views “depend on various factors that do not necessarily have anything to do with the actual usefulness of work… For example, people may also view their work as socially useless because unfavourable working conditions make it seem pointless.”

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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