I tried to explain this to my students today, but as usual, Wikipedia does it a lot better:
A jobsworth is a person who uses their job description in a deliberately uncooperative way, or who seemingly delights in acting in an obstructive or unhelpful manner.
“Jobsworth” is a British colloquial word deriving from the phrase “I can’t do that, it’s more than my job’s worth”, meaning it might lose the person their job: taking the initiative and performing an action, and perhaps in the process breaking a rule, is beyond what the person feels their job description allows. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “A person in authority (esp. a minor official) who insists on adhering to rules and regulations or bureaucratic procedures even at the expense of common sense.” Jonathon Green similarly defines “jobsworth” as “a minor factotum whose only status comes from enforcing otherwise petty regulations”.
Phrases such as “that’s not in my job description” or “not my job” roughly reflect the attitude of a person to whom the term applies.
Another early use was by folk-singer Jeremy Taylor, in a song he wrote in the late 1960s:
- Jobsworth, Jobsworth, It’s more than me job’s worth,
- 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.