‘Case of the jobsworth’ – how pedantic low-level officials have made my travelling experiences a misery

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the definition of a jobsworth is: ‘an official who mindlessly upholds petty rules.’ This exclusively British term originates from the mantra often used by unimportant clerical workers: “I can’t let you do that; it’s more than my job’s worth”. The people who use this mantra seem to be suffering from a serious illness – the prognosis is: they cannot divert from instructions, they believe in their own self-importance, they must stick to the ‘rule book’ and they take delight in acting in an un-cooperative manner.

It’s a vicious form of clerical OCD – ‘the jobsworth’ must follow procedure to the letter and when appropriate, use the threat of conversing with their ‘line manager’ or similar irrelevant figure. In addition to this, ‘the jobsworth’ may insist that he/she needs written confirmation in order to process a request or even worse, he/she will use the classic one liner of: “I’m sorry; it’s not in my job description”. I felt compelled to write this article because I have had several unpleasant interactions with the offensive character known as ‘the jobsworth’, and it’s about time I got it off my chest.

So picture the scene, it’s 6:30am on a Sunday morning – I’m tired, I’m hungover and I’m about to check-in with Ryanair. I’ve got a huge suitcase, a ‘regulation sized’ hand luggage bag and I’m extremely hot and bothered.

‘Attempt to win jobsworth over’ Number 1 – Make a joke: “Oh I really shouldn’t have gone out last night, a few too many cocktails…definitely regretting that one…let’s hope my bag isn’t too heavy haha…”
[Outcome:Fail]
Jobsworth: (No comment to ‘joke’) “Please put your bags on the scales.”
Me: “Oh…it took me so long to pack; I hope I got the weight right?”
Jobsworth: “5kg over – that will be £20 per kg – that’s £100.”
Me: “Oh but…can I…”
Jobsworth: “Actually, while I’m at it, I should really weigh your hand luggage bag too..”
Me: “Oh…”
Jobsworth: “That’s 2kg over.”

To cut a long story short – I gave Mr Jobsworth all my liquids and ended up leaving the check-in desk wearing five layers of clothing – including two winter coats. Breaking a sweat is an understatement…it felt horrific. Also, on top of that – I had to promise to ‘read my magazines and bin them’ before the boarding lounge so they did not add extra weight to my hand luggage. GIVE ME A BREAK – I’ve seen people on flights that take up two seats – why don’t you ask them to stand on the scales?

So, to talk about jobsworth-specific professions – the phrase ‘train conductor’ comes to mind. Now here’s a tip – never ever, ever lose your train ticket. Believe me; I’ve tried all the persuading tricks in the world – but the jobsworths that reside on trains are like no others. You can’t flirt with them, you can’t bribe them, you can’t have a joke with them – I swear they’re half-machine. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got the receipt for your ticket or you’ve got the online confirmation – these jobsworths are adamant to use their ‘weapons’ as much as physically possible. By ‘weapons’, I mean the hand-held ticket machines they so proudly exhibit.

There’s a well-known shaggy haired fella (who will remain anonymous) who works at Peterborough Station and he is what’s known as a ‘serious jobsworth’. The problem he’s got is that he always insists on stopping people and interrogating them about their tickets – especially when they are on their way home with a lot of bags. I’ve had four large shopping bags before and rather than letting me through the door (after viewing my ticket through the plastic in my wallet), he’s insisted that I stop, put my bags down and get my ticket out of my wallet so that he: “can provide an additional stamp on top of the already existing stamp that I can see, Madam”. Smarmy doesn’t even start to cover it.

Now here’s the big one – traffic wardens. Seriously, you’ve got to be a sicko to get daily enjoyment out of ruining other people’s lives. Ok maybe that’s a bit extreme – perhaps I should say, putting a dampener on another person’s day. In all seriousness though, who would want to do a job where all your ‘customers’ hate you? I don’t get it. Whether it’s a parking ticket or a clamp – traffic wardens exist purely to cause misery. The worst story I’ve ever heard is about a parking ticket on a HEARSE – with the coffin still inside. Shortly afterwards, the hearse was towed away – I wish I was joking.

Another story I read in my local paper was about a girl who collapsed outside a well-known chocolate shop. She was diabetic, and her mother rushed into the shop and asked for a sweet. The jobsworth behind the counter refused to hand one over without payment – terrible.

In summary, I can understand that some people may have a strong fear of losing their job, but surely when all’s said and done, they must realise that their daily mission of being inflexible and making other people miserable is going to lead to their inevitable misery too? You reap what you sow…

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