The Importance of ‘That-Jobs’: When That a Job is Done Counts as Much as How
There are some jobs that are important as much for the fact that they are done as for how or why they are done. Call these “that-jobs”.
Being a policeman, in the short term at least, is one of them. Knowing that police are on patrol can be enough to deter crime and give hope to otherwise apprehensive citizens, irrespective of how well-equipped, effective, motivated or large the police force may be.
Being a recruiter is another that-job.
When you answer the phone, no matter how awful the job market or futile the effort, or whether you’ve even got a job to fill, much less the right job for the hopeful caller, you inspire hope and provide comfort. That’s what FDR’s fireside chats, Winston Churchill’s radio addresses in the darkest days of WW II or a brave priest’s bedside visits to 14th-century Black Death plague victims accomplished.
The fact that they did that job at all was, in some ways, enough for them to have succeeded at it. This hope-and-comfort effect (indeed, a social and professional function of that-jobs) is evident even during happier times, if only as a reminder that everything is normal and upbeat.
Just getting up and going to work every day, even when it feels like being an extra in “The Truman Show” or “Groundhog Day”, is a that-job signal to all that you see some point in it, that the effort is not in vain. In tough times, such signs, symbols and rituals of normalcy can have a profoundly comforting and inspiring effect.
Jobs that are obviously that-jobs, such as those of a policeman or recruiter, have an especially prominent and important that-job effect and function.
Engagement-Jobs vs. Escapist-Jobs
There are jobs, that, in addition to being that-jobs that provide broad reassurance and comfort merely by being filled (by police or recruiters), offer comfort and inspiration in one of two other ways: through engagement or through escapism. Call these “engagement-jobs” and “escapist-jobs”, respectively.
A recruiter’s job is also an engagement-job: a job designed to proactively and realistically engage and tackle a real-world challenge, rather than escape it in fantasy or distraction.
In Depression-era America, cheery and flashy Hollywood big-screen musical extravaganzas allowed Americans to psychologically tap-dance around their miseries. Now, decades later, American Idol and Dancing with the Stars, half engagement, half escapism, belt and tap out their upbeat message, loud and strong, that there is indeed a point to trying, that effort and talent bring clear and big rewards.
To that extent, jobs and gigs with these two shows are engagement-jobs, facilitating or at least encouraging real-world effort to succeed, by demonstrating that success is still possible and showing how to achieve it by proactively engaging the challenges. Not a bad theme, as a morale booster in tough times.
However, jobs associated with staging such performances are, at the same time and at least in part, “escapist-jobs”, to the extent that they are part of an escapist distraction industry that diverts attention from the routine and woes of daily life (and from the important task of understanding and controlling the forces that create them).
During the Great Depression and WW II, movie theaters that were still open and showing (new) movies were comforting, in a that-job way—with the projectionist, the ushers, the pop-corn girl, the directors, actors, producers, etc., all playing comforting that-job roles propping up a rickety sense of normalcy.
In this way, the movie industry piled onto the escapist fantasy world it created a second comforting layer, in the form of a soothing reminder that things remained normal in some reassuring ways.
Merely because Depression-era movies were still being made and affordable provided comfort not unlike the reassurance provided by the continued presence of police and recruiters.
Somehow, apart from escapism and irrespective of how good the movie was, the fact that it existed at all, remained affordable and could be seen sustained a sense of normalcy and hope.
That’s how pro sports inspire and reassure, as athletes and teams not only have kept alive the dream of winning the game, event or match, but as they now score $100 million contracts in their business side game—a two-tier model of success that blends the escapist pleasures of games and sports with the real-world success of big paydays.
Recruiter Engagement vs. Hollywood Escapism
In an important way, a recruiter’s job is the opposite of a Hollywood producer’s or NFL team owner. The morale-sustaining effects and function of being a Depression-era job recruiter were the exact opposite of those of the Hollywood musicals and Yankee Stadium games, which were primarily to divert attention and provide momentary relief from harsh economic or social realities.
The recruiter’s job—then, as now—was to engage problems, challenges and opportunities, not to make it possible to briefly escape or be distracted from them.
Above all, the blend of relief and hope provided by recruiters was (and is now) in intent and with luck to last far longer than a 2-hour movie or game.
Given such positive, constructive goals and outcomes,…
…. what could be more inspiring than (such a) that (-job)?