Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

How work can be made less frustrating and conversation less boring

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: (Published 18 December 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:1633
  1. Theodore Zeldin, fellow (
  1. St Antony's College, Oxford OX2 6JF

    Editorial by Clever

    The frustrations of relationships and of work are at the root of much illness in today's society. Technology cannot do much more to relieve them; it cannot tell people who to love, what to think, where to go, or what to do for a living. So medicine, which remedies the suffering which results from such decisions, needs additional partners to modify behaviour harmful to health. To find these partners it must reconsider its assumptions about how people come to change their behaviour, both in private and at work.

    Summary points

    Work can be reorganised to prevent it being demoralising, blunting sympathies, and narrowing horizons

    Jobs do not need to turn people into part time slaves

    Barriers between professions can be breached to provide more varied stimulation

    New methods of conversation can produce radical changes in people's sense of their own capabilities

    Doctors are well placed to show how work and enhancement of personal life can be reconciled


    This article is based on two books I have written, one of which contains long bibliographies. 1 2 It also reflects the first findings of my ongoing project on the future of work, supported by the European Commission, which involves studying a wide range of occupations from the point of view of how their frustrations could be diminished.

    How do people change their ways?

    We have long been taught that important changes are brought about by the discoveries of geniuses, by mass revolutions, or by the influence of exceptional leaders. On the other hand, we are also told that we live as we do because deep economic forces, historical traditions, or the traumas of our infancy—none of which we can easily avoid—make change difficult. There is some truth in both opinions. But they miss a more decisive factor.

    The central impulse in the history of humanity has been …

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