How to Escape the Dysfunctions of a Pointless Job

When asked what’s the most dangerous job, you may instinctively think about firefighters, stuntmen, or even sanitation workers, jobs where people are constantly exposed to physical harm. But what if the most dangerous job was one that many come across in their lifetime, disguised as a bargain while silently poisoning your confidence and will to being?

In an article (The Power of Purpose) by Psychology Today pointed out that “human beings crave for purpose”, and when deprived of purpose, we suffer serious psychological repercussions. So what if the most dangerous job was the one you’re doing everyday and secretly believe is pointless?

According to anthropologist David Graeber, a professor at the London School of Economics, this is what he refers to as a “Bullsh*t Job”.


What is a meaningless (“Bullsh*t”) job and why do we stay?

A meaningless job is one where even the person doing it cannot fully justify its existence. Namely, it is a pointless role that adds little to no value and people doing the work are left having to defend why it even exists. According to Graeber, there are 5 types, flunkies, goons, duct-tappers, box tickers, and task masters. The worst of these, is when someone is paid to do nothing.

But isn’t being paid to do nothing the perfect scenario? Apparently not. Indeed, if we were to look at the situation from a classical economic standpoint, a role that pays well and requires no effort but only for you to show up does seem like the perfect role.

Reality: When economics fail to make sense

In the study, “Effort Aversion: Job Choice and Compensation Decisions Overweigh Effort” by Duke University Fuqua School of Business marketing professor Peter Ubel and David Comerford, an assistant professor at Stirling University found that when considering a job, people have a tendency of dismissing the non-monetary value, even when that value concerns one’s satisfaction during the process.

In one particular experiment, participants were given the choice between puzzle solving and being an on-looker (doing nothing). Majority felt that they would have to be paid more to solve a puzzle as to doing nothing, and yet most (66%) would agree that solving the puzzle was more enjoyable than doing nothing.

This goes to show the flaw in our ability to account for the non-monetary factors and how people are likely to be trapped in a meaningless job so long as it pays well.

cognitive-dissonance_bullshit Jobs

How bad is doing nothing really?

The problem of doing a pointless job is two folds. Doing a pointless job can make you feel a lack of control on your surrounding, as what you do seems to have no impact on the bigger picture. This ultimately is harmful as it creates a disconnect with our innate desire to have meaning and purpose as cited earlier.

However, even greater than this is the problem of cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes. This is precisely the problem faced by people in meaningless jobs. Everyday, they are making the choice to spend most of their day in a place and trying to convince themselves and others that what they do has meaning, while secretly feeling that their job is pointless.

It is this extended state of cognitive dissonance that can cause great internal discomfort, as stated by Alauna Curry, MD, a psychiatrist with the Rowe Network in Houston. A state of constant conflict and denial where, if no resolve or rationalisation is provided can result in mood-regulation disorders such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Solution: Waking up & moving on

In a similar line of logic as a previous article, perhaps a good place to start is to find passion in an aspect of your work. To ask yourself whether what you’re doing is worth the grind and to know when to move on when it is not.

At Links, we are specialised in HR outsourcing and passionate in bringing value to businesses by highlighting the importance of HR and how to do it right. With services ranging from recruitment, to payroll processing, to work visa applications, to specialised HR advisory services and more, our aim is to help HR professionals focus on the people of their organisation.

Links strives to deliver above expectations by bringing extra value to the discussion with our professional expertise. In Links’ recruitment services for example, our consultants doesn’t only aim to meet clients’ requirements but also play the role of an advisor in assessing the best client-candidate fit. Armed with specialised expertise of the Asian market, our professional recruiters are able to partner with employers, providing them with unique talent insights and candidate solutions.

Is it time to look outside the box? Reach out to one of our recruitment experts to see what opportunity we can find for you.


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