Do not be a jobsworth

Jobsworth! This informal and uniquely British word hasn’t quite seeped into Botswana’s common parlance.

The English folk-singer, Jeremy Taylor, popularised the word in his 1973 song entitled Jobsworth. Part of the lyrics go, “Jobsworth, it is more than my jobsworth, I don’t care rain or snow, whatever you want, the answer’s no. I can keep you waiting for hours in the queue, and if you don’t like it, you know what you can do.” If this doesn’t scream blithe indifference and stolid apathy, I wonder what does!

If you are discerning,  you’d have picked that being a jobsworth is a curse, not a blessing. That jobsworths are proud, overzealous and pedantic employees.

Callous impiety is weaved into their professional fabric and they would happily throw reasonableness and humanity out of the window, following rules to the letter.


Being out of step with reality, they would gleefully take leave of their senses, simply because for them, there is no scope for a thumbnail’s wiggle room in the execution of their duties. They have a flawed pre-packaged version of what constitutes a quintessential employee.

In their small world, all rules are equally important and are cast in impenetrable reinforced concrete.

Their lethargic attitude towards work and their misplaced craving for flaunting their authority-free power drive them to elatedly fail to grasp the import and the spirit of the very rules they punctiliously and finically seek to enforce. Their iron-fisted demeanour trivialises observance of rules.

A few senior officers exhibit this attitude. However, generally, jobsworths tend to be lowly officers armed with massive power, which tends to weigh down unfavourably on their reasoning faculty.

Hence, words like leeway, discretion, negotiation, reasonableness, flexibility, common sense and pragmatism are alien to their limited vocabulary.

Rather than facilitate service, these crack-brained hotheads would blatantly obstruct such service and gleefully revel in ‘putting one in their place,’ because for them might makes right. Sadly, jobsworths detract from building a credible platform for teamwork and compromise corporate performance.

Self-awareness compels us to know our blind spots. Am I a jobsworth? What about my colleagues? You must have come across jobsworths. I would put my head on the block and dare you to chop it by presuming you hated every moment of it.

If your emotional intelligence is somewhat compromised, you may have fumed with frustration purely because of your inability to reason with a jobsworth. Your words probably bounced on their heart and head leaving you livid with disappointment, feeling powerless, defeated and disillusioned. Likely, you wished you could inject a powerful shot of an enduring sense of humanity into their seared consciences and dehumanised hearts.

An anecdote of my encounter with a jobsworth is in order. This caveat is in order though; jobsworths are not limited to a single profession. All professions have their fair share of jobsworths. Sir Cary Cooper, a professor of organisational psychology and health at the University of Manchester’s Business School asserts, “You find people like this everywhere. They’re not usually decision-makers and they don’t have much authority. In being difficult they’re saying, I’m more important than you think I am.”

Three weeks ago, on a Saturday, I arrived at Extension 2 clinic armed with a prescription for my hypertensive brother. After spending 10 minutes queueing for COVID-19 registration, I pranced across to the pharmacy. By the time I arrived, it was 12:05pm.

The pharmacist was closing the door and about to lock it. Apparently, his terms of employment prescribe that the pharmacy must close at 12 noon.

Much as I know I’m no charmer, in my attempt to win his heart, I flashed my best smile and engaged the most congenial of my many voices.

Our conversation quickly got off the rails as my attempt to appeal to his humanity hit a brick wall.

For that day, my brother missed his dose of diuretics only because I failed to convince the jobsworth to think with his heart, to be more accommodating and to put humanity ahead of personal right.

Does this strike a chord with you? Has someone ever shut the door just as he saw you sprinting towards his office?

Jobsworths are uncooperative in team work. Have you ever been assigned to a project with a jobsworth? Did you pick unwillingness to sacrifice personal time? Reluctance to share knowledge? Foot-dragging and the disinclination to support team members? Oftentimes, jobsworths are quick to remind the team of their personal rights.

Can you relate to this? Who on earth doesn’t know that the gold standard for performance in corporate settings is effective teamwork?

What if your colleague is a jobsworth? Can you manage him? The jobsworth-spirit should not be tolerated.

It can impede progress, destroy employees’ camaraderie and turn a febrile atmosphere into a toxic environment. We can’t afford to walk on eggshells around jobsworths. Silence is complicity. If our colleague is a victim of this attitude, let’s help him by dealing head-on with the issue.

One way is by going the confrontational route, but in a loving way; pursuing a one-on-one intervention where we can relate how their conduct is frustrating our efforts at achieving important targets.

If they arrogantly choose to be unresponsive, the loving thing is to escalate the matter to their superior and demand their meaningful intervention.

May we all strive to uphold enduring fidelity to the ideals of common sense, reasonableness, magnanimity and humanity.

Editor's Comment
Not yet uhuru

The SoE has been in place for close to 18 months as a measure to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.Despite the uncertainties that the end of SoE bring, many people are happy that government has finally seen it fit not to extend it.But, sorry to burst your bubble, the pandemic won’t be over until our nation and the rest of the world have reached herd immunity. We must know that we are not out of the woods yet. This simply means that we can’t be...

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