Can Dirty Work be Satisfying? A Mixed Method Study of Workers Doing Dirty Jobs

Stephen Deery, Deanna Kolar, Janet Walsh*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)
708 Downloads (Pure)


It has been argued in this journal that sociologists can make an important contribution to the understanding of why workers report feeling satisfied with their work, particularly where job quality is poor. Utilising a mixed method approach, this article explores how employees derive satisfaction from dirty work. The term ‘dirty work’ refers to tasks and occupations that are perceived as disgusting, distasteful or degrading. The research was conducted among workers specialising in the cleaning of abandoned social or public housing apartments in high crime areas in the UK and the USA. The study identifies a number of different mechanisms through which workers are able to make work both more satisfying and establish a sense of self-worth from the tasks they perform, even though dirt and physical taint are central to the job.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)631-647
Number of pages17
JournalWork, Employment and Society
Issue number4
Early online date7 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019


  • dirty work
  • social relationships
  • task variety
  • work group autonomy
  • work satisfaction


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