What is Your Nightmare Job?

What would be the most unattractive job in the regular economy? I'm not talking about the objectively least-well paid or statistically most dangerous, or most unpopular (car salesman?). I mean, what job would you least like to have. No fair saying subsistence farmer in Darfur either — I mean in the US (or other developed economy).

For me, I think the worst job I see around me easily has to be toll booth attendant: Breath fumes all day. No real human contact. Uncomfortable reaching. Half in and half out so your body is a mix of too hot and too cold depending where and when. Much worse than the worst job I ever had (for a week) of (attempted) selling books by phone.

What's your worst nightmare of a job?

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20 Responses to What is Your Nightmare Job?

  1. calugg says:

    Actually, the worst job I ever had was waitressing at a very busy university diner. The shifts could run to 12 hours, with only one break. And of course, the diner was horrible short-staffed. I was hauling very heavy trays and on my feet non-stop except for the few and quick trips to the bathroom. The floor was extremely slipery when wet, and there was nothing like sliding on it while trying to carry a table’s worth of food.

    By the end of my first week of work, I had shin-splints and an aching back. I was desparate to find another job. I finally did, got a job offer after a particularly nasty 12 hour shift (on a Friday). Called the next day and said I wouldn’t be back. Happily, joyously started the new job on Monday (program assistant in Continuing Ed) and NEVER looked back.

    Waiting tables was by far the most physically demanding job I’ve ever had. I was pounded to powder and I was in my mid-20s at the time. I can’t imagine folks who do it into their 50s and 60s. It’s a very common job and I suspect most people have no idea just how difficult it is.

  2. dmh says:

    Operating a lung-gun in the kill room of a poultry processing plant. It is hot, dusty, the air is foul, noisy, bloody and you are sticking a nozzle down the chopped neck of a chiken and sucking the lungs out. All this for $6-7 per hour.

  3. SEO says:

    Well i do volunteer road rescue here in Australia, on call 24/7 and being in the middle of dinner, having the pager go off and extracting mangled bodies from a car wreck is an every day thing.

    Pay rate is Zero, however it’s very rewarding and by far the worst job. That filthy rat infested bakery i worked the ovens in the middle of summer was the pits though.

  4. eszter says:

    I’m not going to answer the question, because I prefer to think about aspects of jobs I *like* vs ones that are unfortunate. But this is certainly something interesting to ponder.:)

    Your question did send me on a hunt for data on occupations and suicide rates. I’d heard in the past that toll booth operators have the highest suicide rate so I thought it was time to find out whether this is true. Not surprisingly given data complications, there’s very little conclusive evidence about this link overall. Here’s one piece that explains some of the issues with trying to answer such a question:
    Clicking through to the results of just an initial quick search suggests that I could spend the whole day reading relevant documents for more info. Unfortunately, I don’t have a day to devote to this despite it being a very interesting topic.

    And I haven’t even gotten to the point of trying to figure out national differences. For example, Hungary has had one of the highest suicide rates for a long time, but there are almost no toll booth operators there so even if it were to have a high rate, this would be unlikely to transfer there (or in the least we certainly would never have the numbers to test it).

  5. Tom says:

    Selling books by phone is Nightmare Job? what You say on selling SEO services by phone for company where they never heard of SEO word etc. for me it’s Nightmare Job!

  6. Michael W says:

    I’ve always imagined there couldn’t be any job much worse than being a roofer in Miami in the summertime.

  7. I think that the independent family industrialized dairy farmer has to be one of the worst jobs in the world. You wake up at 5 or so and work until 9 or so. You deal with manure, sick animals and sick crops, which you frequently treat with any number of hazardous chemicals or fertilizers. You have to keep track of everything in minute detail, from each cow’s breeding cycle, which cow is on which medicine, is it antibiotics, etc. etc. you fight hard to get whatever bonus’s you can get but never seem to get too far ahead of anything, and are frequently one or two minor disasters from failure. Just operating farming machinery your whole life is bound to get you injured in ways beyond merely inhaling the diesel exhaust, given that hydraulic systems, power take off systems, and other devices are fallible in any number of ways. … let’s take for example a fairly innocuous object… the plow. plows take maintenance, you have to sharpen plowshares every spring, usually they are hardened steal, so you use a grinder, thus throwing bits of metal all over you, then any time you are done with them you tend to coat them with something to give them limited protection from the rain… the poison of choice that i recall was old motor oil, that doesn’t mention the torque tools, drills and welders you need should anything break on a simple plow. I guess it is ok because you have a huge variety of things that will kill you faster than not, but… variety in that case… is not the spice of life.

  8. Roger Ailes says:

    Karl Rove’s fluffer.

  9. Michael says:

    This question has occasioned impassioned comment at Crooked Timber. A non-random sample:

    Froomkin is the usual clueless middle-class guy who can’t even begin to imagine what work is like for most of the people who do it.


    Actually, the mere idea that someone intelligent could think that Toll Booth Operator was among the shittiest jobs has put me in an alternatingly sad and foul mood.

    …but also from some kindred soul…

    We shouldn’t underestimate how much a good job is determined on a scale of soul suckingness. I think toll booth person must rank very high on this scale.

    Imaginative commentators argue for piecework, chicken processing, or working with heavy dangerous stuff while having to wear protective clothing and a respirator. Check it out.

  10. Stuart Buck says:

    The most miserable job I ever had was a one-day assignment that I got through a temp agency, one summer when I was in college. The assignment involved going to a dusty, dank warehouse, and helping another man unload an entire semi-truck full of giant packages of fiberglass insulation. Here’s what made that job worse than being a toll-booth attendant:

    1) The packages were too large for either of us to lift by ourselves — probably 75 to 100 pounds, and nothing to grip with. We had to roll the packages off the truck, and then stack them 4 high (i.e., to a level of about 8 or 9 feet) in the warehouse.

    2) All the packages were covered in fiberglass dust, which ended up covering one’s entire body and itched like crazy.

    3) It was about 110 degrees in the warehouse, which was unventilated.

  11. Mojo says:

    The worst job I ever had (only for a few days, fortunately) was urinalysis monitor in the military. Eight hours a day of watching people pee in a cup so I could testify that I’d really, truly seen the sample leave their body and enter the cup in case of a trial. All while people think of you as a combination of pervert and narc.

  12. merge says:

    Probably not as bad as sucking out chicken lungs, but my worst job ever was cotton-candy man at a circus in the summer. Machine radiating heat, air conditioning in the concessions wagon broken, you end up with a thin layer of sugar glued all over your skin with sweat (and, until you get the hang of it, big pink tufts). Also, living on the third bunk in a tiny, tiny, hot, hot room in a trailer. Oh, and you become so familiar with porta-johns that, when you do finally return to civilization, you have to remind yourself to flush. Also, I hate cotton candy. On the other hand, met a lot of interesting people.

  13. Sam says:

    I worked at a golf course when I was 15. I was a range rat, the guy that drives the cart that picks up the golf balls on the driving range. That sounds like a cush job you say? It was, when the weather was good. But when it rained things got ugly because golfers are CRAZY and they will keep hitting balls in anything short of a hurricane.

    When the ground turns to mud the machine will only drive the balls into it. So the range closes early and you pick them up by hand. In the rain. Oh, and there were ducks. You’d be surprised what percentage of the driving range is actually duck feces, you don’t notice till its wet and your covered in it. Also, the ball washing machine doesn’t operate well with all that mud, frequently needing to be unjammed. And the balls all need to be washed twice. At the end of 5 hours of picking up/washing golfballs in 40 degrees while its raining and covered in duck crap I was a pretty sad sight.

  14. wcw says:

    In the US? Day laborer.

    At least the rest of these jobs are there every day you want them.

    Imagine working your ass off, getting paid peanuts, getting up the next morning, and not even getting hired.

  15. hipparchia says:

    working with heavy dangerous stuff while having to wear protective clothing and a respirator
    i kinds liked my job when i had this one. got to be better than sucking the lungs out of chickens.

  16. anony says:

    Lawyer at a Big Firm.

  17. Dave says:

    One other danger for the toll booth folks which I’ve heard about. People who heat up their change in the cig lighters and than drop it in the toll booth operators hands. Ouch.

    Worst job, making Chai, lactose free, vanilla, triple, no foam lattes at six am at any coffee shop and having to be extra nice as per company policy.

  18. Dave says:

    One other danger for the toll booth folks which I’ve heard about. People who heat up their change in the cig lighters and than drop it in the toll booth operators hands. Ouch.

    Worst job, making Chai, lactose free, vanilla, triple, no foam lattes at six am at any coffee shop and having to be extra nice as per company policy.

  19. Summer says:

    Actually I work in an office. I have all my life. And to be honest, I yearn for such a job.. as a toll booth operator. To be by myself… would be a dream. No one hovering over me. No one to report to. No daily a.m. meetings. No adapting to ‘office policies’ that continue to change like every 2 wks. No office politics. No petty bullsh*t. No caddy co-workers to deal with. Sounds like heaven, EXCEPT for the money. But these days. I really wonder if it’s worth it.

  20. anymonus says:

    Every job, thats monotonus

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