One in five working Americans believes their job is meaningless

Jamie BallardData Journalist
August 02, 2021, 3:30 PM UTC

In the quest for life’s meaning, some people might be looking to their career for answers while others don’t feel their job has a significant impact on the world.  

In a recent YouGov poll of more than 9,000 working Americans, only just over half (55%) feel that their job is making a meaningful contribution to the world, while 22% say otherwise. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of Baby Boomers and over half (56%) of Gen X’ers say their job is making a notable impact on the globe. Around half of working Millennials (49%) and Gen Z’ers (49%) feel the same way.  

A previous YouGov survey also reflected similar feelings: in 2015, 59% felt their job was making a difference while 24% felt it was not.   

Americans who work in industries including health care/social assistance (73%) and education (72%) are especially likely to say their work is making a meaningful contribution to the world. Close to two-thirds of those who work in government (64%) or non-profits/community services/religious services (64%) also feel that their job makes an impact.  

Not everyone is so certain that they’re putting anything meaningful into the world. Those who work in the wholesale trade industry tend to say their work is not making a significant contribution to the world (44% vs 40% who say it is). Similarly, those who work in media/communications/digital entertainment are divided: 40% say their work is not making a difference in the world, but 42% say that it is.  

But a feeling of meaningless at work doesn’t always mean a job is unfulfilling. 

Among those who say their job is not making a meaningful contribution to the world, 42% say that their job is very or somewhat fulfilling. That said, 56% of those who feel their job isn’t meaningful also tend to say they’re not personally fulfilled by work, with 27% of this group saying their job is not at all fulfilling.  

Almost nine in 10 people (88%) who believe their job is making a meaningful difference say they feel fulfilled by their work, with 43% of these saying they find their job "very fulfilling."

Overall, 67% of working Americans said they find their job very or somewhat fulfilling. Baby Boomers (75%) are especially likely to say this, but at least three in five employed Gen X’ers (66%), Millennials (62%), and Gen Z’ers (60%) feel the same way.  

Around three in 10 (27%) working Americans find their jobs to be not very or not at all fulfilling. Millennials (30%), Gen Z’ers (29%) and Gen X’ers (27%) are more likely than Baby Boomers (21%) to say this is the case.   

The same YouGov survey from 2015 found nearly identical results: 67% of working Americans said they felt fulfilled by their jobs while 28% did not.  

 See full results here.  

Related: Americans would prefer a four-day, ten-hour workweek 
 
Methodology: 18,240 US adults, including 9,811 who are currently employed, were surveyed between July 16 - 23, 2021. The responding sample is weighted to be representative of the US population.   

Image: The Gender Spectrum Collection