09 August 2008


'Jobsworth' is an almost exclusively British word. It can't be found in Dr Grumble's American dictionary. Dr Grumble thought that it was probably Esther Rantzen and her That's Life team that coined the word but it goes back longer than that apparently.

Dr Grumble fears that the reason jobsworth is an exclusively British word is that jobsworthiness is a largely British phenomenon. But then he remembered Heidikraut's blog and her descriptions of dealing with Teutonic bureaucrats. Sure enough the word jobsworth appears in her blog. Perhaps it's not just Britain that has these jobsworths.

So in case anybody who is not British is still reading this Dr Grumble should tell you what a jobsworth is. To grasp this you need to understand that in any big organisation there are those at the top and those at the bottom. You will generally meet the jobsworth at the bottom. The jobsworth is the person you have to interact with to get what you want from the organisation. It is the person you telephone when you ring the hospital. It is the person who tells you that you cannot have an appointment way into the future because the rules don't allow it and that it is 'more than their job's worth' to break the rule. In this particular example it is not the fault of the jobsworth but that's another story.

Now employees at the bottom of the heap can make themselves important in two ways. They can be helpful to the people they are supposed to serve or obstructive. Either way they create an importance for themselves. But you usually find that they are obstructive. The reason for this is that helpful people are helpful to their managers and get promoted. The unhelpful people are left dealing with the public.

Do you get these people in hospitals? Yes. They are everywhere. They are the reason why there are so many people out there saying the NHS should be privatised. They have jobs for life. They never get culled. They always work 9 to 5 or 09.30 to 4.30 with a long period in the middle of the day when they are doing something so important that you cannot contact them. These are the people who issue you with vital things like your hospital ID or your car parking permit. They have no concept of customer service. They always go at the pace that pleases them. It is completely impossible ever to put them under any pressure. They have an amazing capacity to louse up people's lives. And the angrier you get with them the more they dig in their heels. They are everywhere. They are horrible obnoxious people. If you are a junior doctor you think that these people see you as vulnerable and that one day when you are a consultant they will treat you with respect. But if you ever get to being a consultant you will find out that the jobsworth is all powerful. He (or more often she) does not discriminate. Consultant or junior, cleaner or top manager the jobsworth trumps them all.

The jobsworth has blighted Dr Grumble's life. He hates them. But what has induced this blogging tirade? Well it was a post in dnuk from a desperate junior doctor. When the jobsworth starts messing with staff in a vulnerable position Dr Grumble's blood begins to boil. But allowing your blood to boil when it comes to dealing with the jobsworth is always a mistake. The first rule in dealing with these obnoxious people is to stay calm.

The posts in dnuk are confidential so Dr Grumble will paraphrase the problem that was described. He has come across the same sort of thing countless times. Dr Grumble is about to describe a favourite jobsworth wind up. This is roughly what the very junior doctor said:

I have just started as an SHO as St Elsewhere's. I am getting married in September so I wrote in advance to explain that I needed to attend my own wedding and that I would not be able to work on certain dates and would they please ensure that I was not rostered to deal with the emergencies during that period. The rota has just come out and guess what? I am on call on my wedding day. I contacted the jobsworth in medical staffing and they said that I would have to organise a swap and that if I couldn't and I went off sick they would inform the Deanery. By the way my wedding is in September 2009.

This is typical jobsworth behaviour. The jobsworth has found something that really matters to the 'customer'. No effort is made to try and help. The responsibility for the problem is pushed firmly into the customer's lap. Enormous distress is cause. Other people, who have more important things to do, will have to sort it out.

Dr Grumble really hates jobsworths. Hanging, drawing and quartering is too good for them.


Dr Aust said...

Hab' ich immer versteht, Herr Dr G, das man in Deutschland immer viele Beamten (jobsworths) findet.

My last experiencen of Deutsche Beamtlichkeit was when transiting through Munich airport. The (scowling female) Beamte confiscated a miniature penknife-type blade (length about 1 inch) from my Swisscard. She managed to do this without ever actually speaking to me, since she handed me a little printed pro-forma and then dismissed me with a wave. Vielen Dank.

As you can imagine from our Anglo-German alliance, Mrs Dr Aust and I spend a fair amount of time comparing Englische jobsworths with German Beamten.

Dr Grumble said...

You never quite know how much it is the individual jobsworth and how much it is rules and regulations that really cannot be surmounted. The jobsworths all know this, of course, and capitalise on it.

Rules can be pretty crazy. For example, we have a young man from New Zealand working for us at present. He can only work with us for a limited time. He then has to fly back to NZ to renew his visa.He cannot, according to the jobsworth, do it from the UK. It will cost him £900 and will produce masses of CO2. And it's not just him having to fly back to produce a piece of paper at the embassy but hundreds of others. It is madness. Or is it just a wind up by the jobsworth. That's the problem. You can never be sure.

heidikraut said...

thank you for reminding me that I have a blog - I should be reported to a Beamte for blog neglect, I suspect.

However, your story about your colleague is outrageous and I know that you've not made this up, but it's the sort of story that people would find hard to believe wasn't made up. It's so mean-minded and it doesn't even hinge on rules - that's the worst thing - it hinges on nastiness.