Role players

On the evidence of this headline, my job is half way to being a soap opera

I was scanning the comments to this excellent blog post about how our jobs are getting worse. One of the commenters asked: “When did a job become a ‘role’?”

My guess is, about the time that we started to think of ourselves as the romantic leads in a heroic work-based melodrama, which is about when we started to treat CEOs as philosophers and action heroes rather than businesspeople. Graduating from a job to a role implies we are acting the part rather than just doing something. We’re important enough to have an image.

As in any soap opera, in business not all roles are equal. Some hams overact to get attention. For example, a dedicated Talknormalist passed me details of Steve Lundin at BIGFrontier (“Our event archives provide a walk through the wild west days of Chicago’s burgeoning technology scene”), who is apparently the company’s Chief Hunter and Gatherer.

He’s certainly playing a role. You might have an opinion as to what that role is; I’ll let you come up with your own description.

Research on Factiva shows that, in UK work-related press articles, the roles-to-jobs ratio changed dramatically between 2001 and 2007. In 2001 there were about 10 jobs for every role. In 2007, the number of roles peaked: there were only four jobs per role in the press. Then, when the recession hit, the ratio declined to seven jobs per role. The higher this graph went, the more we were writing about roles:

Compare the shape of the graph with the Office of National Statistics estimates of UK employment and UK vacancies during the same period:

Best to be cautious when drawing a conclusion from this, because more or less every economic graph goes up between 2001 and 2007 and then goes off a cliff. But I’d guess that, when everything seemed exciting and full of promise, we fantasised (and were told) we had an important role. When we were fired, it was from our meaningless jobs.

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6 Responses to “Role players”


  1. 1 mdubash September 3, 2010 at 9:59 am

    Reminds me of the gruesome way I hear people (not close friends I hasten to add) talking with adulation about ‘industry rock stars’. So many things wrong with that, it’s hard to count the ways. Sets my teeth on edge…

  2. 2 Tim Phillips September 3, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    You’ve always been more of an industry James Blunt to me Manek

  3. 3 mdubash September 7, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    The good news is that I’ve never knowingly heard James Blunt….

  4. 4 Tim Phillips September 7, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    Looks like I dodged a bullet there

  5. 5 Network Camera September 11, 2010 at 4:58 am

    You certainly deserve a round of applause for your post and more specifically, your blog in general. Very high quality material.

  6. 6 Miss Harker October 14, 2010 at 4:23 pm

    Had an email the other day and someone actually said, and I quote

    ‘We will begin ideating from now and be ready with some thought-starters’

    Tell me Mr Phillips is ‘ideating’ and ‘thought-starters’ normal language? Or have I led a sheltered life?


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