Get with the programme… or at least get out of the way

Red tape

“I’m not sure I could add any value to that.“

“It’s beyond the scope of my skill-set.”

“I’d love to help but I’m not sure I’m the subject-matter expert you need.”

“That’s not within the remit of my role.”

We’ve all come across them. Some of us know them. Many of us work with them. Fewer of us might be them (chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re not on the list). Meet The Jobsworth. If anything, all that’s happened with modern corporate-speak is that they’ve found new and more creative ways of saying “I can’t be bothered” delineating the extent of both their creativity and their effort.

They appear in the office if-not-quite-late, at least as close to “bang on time” as the second hand on the analogue clock they persist in clinging to allows. They’ve never met a form they didn’t love – in triplicate, no less, and their well-entrenched sense of self-importance climaxes in the presence of red tape. They’re sure to be found on a tea/coffee/fag break at just the moment they might be needed and are the person most likely to have every inch of detail on workers’ entitlements (or union rights, depending on your industry) to hand in a jiffy. I’d nearly wonder if there wasn’t a “break in case of being asked to actually work” box under their paper-laden desk. They continue to celebrate with gusto the 11.15 tea-break stampede of yore and, when asked to attend a through-lunch meeting faint at the mere prospect of impending starvation should the clock go past 13.01 whilst they remain unnourished.

I’ve worked in the public, private and NGO sectors for nearly 15 years and can honestly say they can be found across all three. They can be male and female (The Jobsworth is an equal-opportunities heart-sink barrier) and can be of any age (although my personal experience would suggest they’re scant among generation X and Y’ers). They are what can disrupt a meeting, prevent a culture change and hold up even the most vital of projects. Their presence alone can kill a productive, creative vibe and, if you work in comms or strategy, The Jobsworth as a stakeholder can be the invidious preventer of success you never fully banked on.

They have a cultivated air of beavering away – busy work is their forte. Take a look at their desk the next time you spot one – it’s an eerie not-cluttered, not-tidy, not-clean-desk that has a personality all its own. In/out/action trays replete, magazine racks of paper and policies unread but ever-present… their space as much as their demeanour all-but screams “don’t ask me to actually apply myself”. When push comes to shove and they’re needed (more likely because of an all-hands-on-deck, proverbial hitting the fan situation when any warm body would do, rather than an almost-impossible situation in which they’d add value) even Brian Cox’s knowledge of black holes can’t help locate them.

They somehow manage to come to occupy some vital role that must be retained in even the most scathing of restructures and are scathingly cutting in their dismissiveness of success or innovation. The best among them know enough to sweet-talk the boss and go unnoticed and unbothered for decades – marking time towards their gold-watch moment. The worst among them have come to enjoy that they can’t be touched and do little to hide their contempt for younger “go-getters” or those passionate about their work. They take squatters rights in your corporate abode and are filled with a plethora of detail on the latest coffee machine, the copier being out of paper (note, fully solveable but “more than my job’s worth” un-doable) and the latest low-down on office gossip both real and imagined.

The Jobsworth is the anathema of modern professionalism, corporate growth and organisational culture change. If they were as adept at being helpful, collegiate, dedicated or even cognitively present as they were to the role as The Jobsworth, their working world, and yours, would be unrecognisable.

A weighty body of organisational psychology will refer in almost hushed and PC tones to The Jobsworth in terms of employee engagement, motivation and, most recently the nature/nurture theory outlining how engagement programmes, a clear sense of direction and personal autonomy in a role can attenuate if not fully confine The Jobsworth.  But, all-in, part of me thinks a less scientific but far more direct approach is to encourage The Jobsworth to get with the programme or get out of the way.

Work is more than a job… most of us are now going to work until we’re at least 70 and if we’re lucky much of that time will see us be paid for something we’re passionate about. While a career (more than a job for life) was what my generation were told to strive for, to me and so many others like me “work” is so much more than that. I’ve worked in jobs I love and jobs I’ve hated and still managed to never be A Jobsworth. It’s just not how I tick but here’s the important thing – I’m not alone and yet The Jobsworth persists. And that’s the point. Part of me thinks they persist because we, and at times, management culture let them.  So, to The Jobsworth…

“I’m not sure I could add any value to that.“ – Try, and if you don’t, try again, try harder, try better… but at least try.

“It’s beyond the scope of my skill-set.” – Then expand and redefine the scope, give it a go. At best you’ll learn. At worst you’ll at least have been helpful.

“I’d love to help but I’m not sure I’m the subject-matter expert you need.” – Maybe so, but I’m asking you so let’s at least find out. If you’d love to help, then start to try.

“That’s not within the remit of my role.” – Then move beyond the set of bullet points that defines your comfort zone, I have, and do (daily). Truth is, it’s more fun on my side of the fence.

To the Jobsworth… from the bottom of my heart, enough already, get over yourself and just get on with it.

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About frimframworld

Total coffee fan, dedicated foodie & news hound. Strategic PR & political comms as a day job. All comments my own - blogging in a personal capacity only.

View all posts by frimframworld

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