Everyone complains about their jobs, but how many consider their work useless? A new study by Robert Dur of Erasmus University Rotterdam and Max van Lent of Leiden University draws attention to this less explored aspect of employment and throws up an estimate on the number of people who do not find their jobs worth doing.

The two analyse data from more than 100,000 workers across 47 countries and find that, on an average, 8% of the world’s workers consider their jobs socially useless, while 17% seem doubtful about the social usefulness of their jobs.

Indians are particularly pessimistic about their jobs, with around 12% considering their work socially useless. This is one of the highest proportions in the world behind only Japan, Poland and Israel.

Interestingly, the authors find a higher share of people finding their jobs meaningless in the private sector compared with the public sector. About 11% of those employed in private businesses consider their jobs useless, significantly higher than the 3% in the public sector. Within the private sector, more workers consider their job socially useless when their work involves routine tasks or they work in finance, sales, marketing, and public relations departments. According to the authors, this could be because many of these jobs involve harming people more than helping them.

On the other hand, public sector jobs in education, health and the police are rarely perceived as socially useless.

The authors suggest that Karl Marx’s theory of alienation, which holds that division of labour into highly specialized parts can make meaningful work look meaningless, partly explaining why some professionals find their jobs utterly useless.

Another potential reason for perceived uselessness could be labour hoarding, when firms hire more workers than necessary during recessions resulting in ‘on-the-job underemployment’.

Also read: Socially Useless jobs