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What is a job? Definition and meaning

The term ‘job’ can mean: 1. A full or part-time position of paid employment. 2. A piece of work, usually at an agreed price. 3. A specific task done as part of the routine of an individual’s occupation. 4. A duty or responsibility. 5. A project, as in ‘The airport job took twelve months to complete.’ 5. The performance or execution of a task, as in “She did an excellent job.”

Informally, it can also refer to somebody’s pet going to the toilet, as in “I waited for my dog Tommy to do his job, after which we walked home.” A bank job can mean a bank robbery, as in ‘The city has been plagued by a series of bank jobs.’

Job Characteristics Theory is a theory of job design developed forty years ago that is widely used today as a framework to study how work outcomes, including job satisfaction and productivity are affected by certain job features.

According to dictionary.cambridge.org, a job is:

“The regular work that a person does to earn money. A particular piece of work. Something that is your responsibility. A problem or activity that is difficult. A crime in which money or goods are stolen.”

Job typesHumans need jobs because working enables us to earn money. Money is a crucial aspect of our lives because it allows us to pay for many necessities, such as food, clothing and shelter.

Etymology of ‘job’

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word ‘job’, with the meaning ‘piece of work, something to be one,’ emerged in the English language in Britain in the 1620s, from the phrase Jobbe of Worke (1550s), meaning ‘task, piece of work’. Some etymologists – people who study the origin of words – suggest that it was a variant of Gobbe, which meant ‘mass, lump’, via the sense of ‘a cart-load’.



It was not until the 1650s that the meaning of ‘job’ widened to include ‘work done for pay’.

According to literary records, the term was first used with the meaning ‘a paid, permanent position of employment’ in 1858. From 1795, printers used the word as a slang for ‘piece of work of miscellaneous class’ (handbills, posters, etc.).

In the 1660s, also in Britain, ‘to job’ – as a verb – appeared with the meaning ‘to buy and sell as a broker’.

Confucius job quoteConfucius (551-479 BC), a Chinese teacher, polititian, philosopher and editor, once said: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” (Image: biography.com)

Types of jobs

In society, most of us have multiple jobs. A person may be an employee, a parent, and homemaker – by definition, they are all types of jobs.

People who are trained in certain types of jobs, either have a:

Trade: these are skilled manual jobs. Examples include carpenters, auto mechanics, hairtsylists, bakers, butchers, plumbers, and tree surgeons. In order to become qualified, you usually have to do a course and complete a number of weeks or months of practical work.



Profession: for this type of job you need a university qualification. Examples include lawyers, doctors, dentists, architects, librarians, engineers, pharmacists, scientists, physicists, teachers, university professors, and geologists.

Between trades and professions there are technical and administration jobs – for some of them you need a university degree.

All the others are called unskilled jobs, for which no formal qualifications are needed. Examples include fruit pickers, maids, janitors, retail assistants, farm laborers, cleaners, etc.

Many CEOs of giant multinationals have no college degrees – they either started off at the bottom of the employment ladder and worked their way up, or went into business and became extremely successful and rich.

Richard Branson, the founder and CEO of the Virgin Group, left school at the age of 16. He has dyslexia and performed badly as a student. On his last day at school, Headmaster Robert Drayson predicted that Branson would either end up in jail or become a millionaire. Today he has a net worth of over $5 billion.

JoblessnessJoblessness means unemployment. When somebody does not have a job and is actively looking for one, we say he or she is unemployed. During a recession, the number of jobs declines, while unemployment increases.

A vocation is a job?

A vocation is a type of job to which an individual is specially drawn – he or she receives a ‘call’ or a summons from a higher entity.

Originally, the term was used just for religious callings, but today several non-religious occupations are considered as vocations. Examples include teaching or medicine (doctor).

The vocation of a nurse or doctor is probably to be a ‘healer’.

Vocation may refer to work that is outside a person’s money-earning sphere of activity. For example, an entrepreneur might have a vocation as a Sunday school teacher or a youth sponsor.

Since the American engineer, social reformer and public intellectual Frank Parsons (1854-1908) published his Vocational Guidance in 1908, the use of the term ‘vocation’ has widened to include the notion of people using their talents and capabilities to good effect in selecting and enjoying a career. Therefore, today an occupation can be a job for which a person is suited, trained or qualified.

Definition of a dead end jobAccording to Urbandictionary.com, a dead-end job is: “Employment in a menial job which usually requires minimal skills, offers little pay, and has few or no opportunities for a promotion or advancement within the company.”

Full- and part-time jobs

Jobs may be categorized by the number of hours per week into full-time or part-time. The number of part-time jobs in North America and Western Europe, as a proportion of total employment, has increased considerably since the turn of the century.

Jobs can also be categorized as self-employment, consulting, odd jobs, seasonal, temporary or contract.

Most people’s jobs are paid, but some are not. Examples of unpaid jobs include interns, students, homemakers, caregivers (UK: carers) of family members, mentors, and volunteers.

There are literally thousands of different types of jobs. According to the UK’s Office for National Statistics, there are 27,966 different job titles.

Dangerous jobThe Daily Mirror surprised its readers with a list of the five most dangerous jobs in Britain: 1. Builders. 2. Farmers. 3. Refuse collectors. 4. Garage Workers. 5. Estate Agents (US: Realtors). Readers had expected that stuntmen, lion tamers, and bomb disposal experts would have been on the list.

What is a day job?

‘Day job’ is a term that typically refers to low-paying work that people have while looking for their preferred occupation. For example, people may wait on tables in a restaurant or serve drinks in a bar while trying to become athletes, actors, musicians, successful authors, or completing their degree courses.

The implication of ‘day job’ is that the individual would gladly give it up if he or she managed to make a decent living from their real vocation.

If somebody is told ‘Don’t give up your day job,’ it is a humorous way of telling them that their singing, acting, writing, or artistic ability is bad.

Video – What is a good quality job?

According to this OECD video, the quality of the jobs we have matter to our overall well-being.