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Why We Hate Our Jobs

I've spent half a century writing for radio and print (mostly print). I hope to still be tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

How Many People Hate Their Jobs?

There are a few ways of existing without working for pay; inheriting wealth from family, winning the lottery, going into a monastery or convent, or living off the land as a hermit. Other than that, everybody has to join the daily grind to pay for food, shelter, clothing, transportation, entertainment, and all the other requirements of life.

Meaningless Work

Rod Graham is a sociology professor at Rhode Island College. He says that “Most jobs are devoid of meaning. People are simply doing those jobs to get money and survive.”

A small percentage of people love their work. Those who work in the arts—actors, musicians, writers, etc.—tend to be fulfilled by their occupations, although mostly not very well paid (a tiny number of Hollywood stars excepted). People in the helping professions, such as medicine and social work, are also usually happy about what they do.

But, for most people, work is something they have to do so they can do something they like when they are not working.

Disengaged Labour

The numbers of people dissatisfied with their work are staggering.

Here’s the Gallup polling organization, “13 percent of employees across 142 countries worldwide are engaged in their jobs.” Gallup says “engaged” workers are those who have made an emotional investment in their efforts and who strive to create value for their employer.

Canada does slightly better than the world average, with 16 percent of its workforce engaged. This is a long way behind the United States (30 percent) or Costa Rica (33 percent) but well ahead of Israel (five percent) and France (nine percent).

So, with 13 percent of the world’s workers engaged in their endeavours, the other side of the coin is that 87 percent of employees worldwide are disengaged. These are folk that “are negative and potentially hostile to their organizations.”

Clearly, a lot of people don't like their jobs.

Clearly, a lot of people don't like their jobs.

Clearly, a lot of people don't like their jobs.

Are We All Downers?

In 2016, Gallup re-visited the issue with a specific focus on the U.S. CBS News reported on the findings: “Of the country’s approximately 100 million full-time employees, 51 percent aren’t engaged at work—meaning they feel no real connection to their jobs, and thus they tend to do the bare minimum.”

However, 16 percent of workers are so disengaged they have a negative impact on the rest of the workforce. They are the epitome of the Saturday Night Live character Debbie Downer who could only say negative things.

We're struggling out here!

We're struggling out here!

Reasons for Unhappiness at Work

Some common factors stand out in surveys of why folks feel negative about their work:

  • People: Many employees are annoyed by co-workers who don’t pull their weight, by managers who are incompetent, rude, and abusive, and by customers who are demanding and unreasonable;
  • Not Appreciated: Many employees feel management takes their work for granted and doesn’t provide the support or resources they need to succeed. Ignored by their leaders, people feel expendable, sensing they can easily be replaced by someone from the pool of the unemployed;
  • Career Standstill: Jobs that offer no prospect for promotion or skills training are a big turnoff. Dead-end, going-nowhere work creates unhappiness. The thought of spending 30 or more years at the same boring and repetitive task can be soul-destroying.
  • Low Pay: The most frequent complaint is “I’m not paid enough for what I do.” This feeling is intensified when workers in cubicles or the shop floor see executives getting multi-million dollar salaries and bonuses; and,
  • Overwork: More than half the people in a survey said they “constantly” feel overworked. Exhausted workers are not happy workers, nor are they very productive.

No wonder 87 percent of employees feel cranky.

Pressure to Produce

Globalization has created competitive pressures for many industries.

Metal bending and assembly work have moved away from developed economies to low-wage countries such as China, India, and Mexico.

The manufacturers who have stayed have had to become more productive; that means getting greater units of work out of the same or smaller workforce. Here’s how the Gallup people put it, “In many countries, raising workers’ productivity levels is critical to business growth and badly needed job creation.”

Productivity Rates

Gallup says that companies with a highly engaged labour force produce 147 percent more profits than those with disengaged workers. “Active disengagement is an immense drain on economies throughout the world. Gallup estimates, for example, that for the U.S., active disengagement costs US$450 billion to US$550 billion per year.”

It’s clear that workers who are largely grumpy and disengaged are not going to be motivated to raise their levels of productivity.

“As it turns out, if you’re unhappy at work, your boss may be mostly to blame.”

— Anna Robaton, CBS News

How to Fix It

The solution to all these problems lies in the hands of management.

Leaders have to communicate company goals to staff and motivate employees to buy into them. Managers have to listen to employee concerns and not just listen, but act upon those that are valid.

Senior executives must not lock themselves away in their corner offices and issue directives from on high; they must be accessible to their staff.

Many corporations promote people from within as a reward for excellent work, but this can backfire. Just because someone is great at sales does not necessarily mean they will be a good manager.

Good Management Characteristics

Companies should recognize that top-quality managers have unique talents and may need to hire from outside to get the right people.

Good managers motivate their staff to make an emotional investment in their work. This is not an easy task. It requires highly sophisticated people skills that not many people possess. But, there’s a payoff.

Here’s Anna Robaton of CBS News Moneywatch, “A recent Gallup study found that publicly traded firms that follow employee-engagement best practices outperformed their competitors, as measured by earnings per share, over the four-year period ending in 2015.”

Bonus Factoids

  • Glassdoor is a website that carries employee reviews of the companies they work for. Each year, 24/7 Wall St. analyzes the reviews and publishes its list of the worst employers in America. The Kraft Heinz Company usually rates near the bottom as one of the worst companies. 24/7 Wall St. says that common complaints “include mentions of long hours, high turnover, a hostile environment, and poor management.” Other poor performers include Hertz, Forever 21, and L.A. Fitness.
  • “My boss took credit for a 350-page report I wrote and got a huge bonus. I complained and got shifted to the bad debts department. Was it wrong of me to wipe all of his department’s computer files and get him suspended? Probably illegal.” Comment made by a disgruntled employee to Real Business in the U.K.
  • Greg Smith was an executive with the banking giant Goldman Sachs. In 2012, he quit and, in a blaze of revenge, published a damning op-ed article in The New York Times, saying the company had lost its “moral fiber” and was less concerned about the well-being of its clients than it was about making money.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Rupert Taylor


Travel Chef from Manila on June 23, 2018:

Most people work because they need to, and not because they want to. That's the reality of life here on earth. The sad truth is, it seems like most people are living just to pay their bills without enjoying their lives anymore.