I've come across this phrase in the following context:
... such cultures bring up people to be box-tickers.
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It only takes a minute to sign up.Sign up to join this community
I think the expression "box ticker" is used to refer to a small narrow minded person, one that does a very simple job that does not imply responsibilities especially in bureaucratic contexts:
The following article from the FT appear to use that expression with the meaning I am referring to:
he arguments that reasons should be given for all decisions, that consultation should be undertaken, that people should be accountable, are superficially compelling. But the big bureaucracies, public and private, whose processes fulfil these requirements are not known for the quality of their decisions but for their ineptitude. Typically the reasons given for judgment are rationalisations after the event, the consultation is a formality rather than a sincere search for opinions, and the accountability is a matter of extensive paperwork rather than a genuine appraisal of performance.
- But the real downside of box-ticking is not that it is hypocritical, although it often is. It is that the people who find it endurable are often people who should not be making decisions at all.
According to Collins, box-ticking means
the process of satisfying bureaucratic administrative requirements rather than assessing the actual merit of something.
So a box ticker should be a person who looks for bureaucratic administrative requirements rather than actual merit of something; i.e. he will routinely go through his instructions while assessing something, rather than actually putting his mind to it.
Consider a menu where you have a little box beside each item, such as the following:
You place a tick (or check) in the boxes corresponding to the items you select. That's called "ticking boxes" in the literal sense. As the person doing the ticking, there's no need to think about what each item should be called.
A box-ticker is then a derogatory term for someone who simply selects from existing choices instead of coming up with something original. They stereotypically follow protocol blindly instead of taking appropriate initiative.
Imagine a checklist, like the checklist a pilot fills out. Those usually have a lot of boxes that have to be "ticked".
The process of doing this is very mundane and monotone. It is always done in the same way. You don't need to put your mind to it, you just take he list, start at the top and tick the boxes, one after one, without much thinking.
No go back to Collins:
(derogatory) the process of satisfying bureaucratic administrative requirements rather than assessing the actual merit of something
A box ticker is someone who mechanically only does the minimum to fulfill requirements, and nothing more. He doesn't come up with own ideas and doesn't take the initiative. He also doesn#t question wether what he does is productive or wether procedure is dated and should be changed.
People who "check the box" (fulfill a requirement) without analyzing if it is good or bad, beneficial or not. Who fulfill the requirement without ever questioning the worth of the action.
I think Josh61's answer is the most common meaning, so I upvoted it. But there's another meaning, and you haven't provided enough context to tell which it is.
Many companies practice what is known in the US as affirmative action. Many people resent this. I've heard the term "box-ticker" used to refer to people who are presumed to have been hired not for their abilities, but so the employer could "check a box" on some theorized affirmative action quota. E.g., "Hired a black person... check." Needless to say, this usage is derogatory and offensive.
An unsurprisingly incoherent example of this usage:
Affirmative Action ---devalues--- PoC in the workplace, noone knows if they are "box-tickers" or there to do the job everyone else is doing . . .
The negative connotations relating to affirmative action, as described by @KevinKrumwiede, do not necessarily apply - it could just mean someone who has all the required qualities for a job...
"Alex, I've read your CV and you're a real box-ticker".
On the daily mail web site football manager Martin O'Neill is described as a box-ticker for Sunderland (but he was later sacked less than half way through a three year contract).
If a workplace wanted to fulfil as many equal opportunities requirements as possible, they would appoint someone who might be considered a "box-ticker", ie someone who fulfilled as many of the following traits as possible: non-white, non-male, gay, transgender, non-christian, disabled, etc.
This term is considered derogatory by some as it obviously implies someone has gotten a job based on factors other than their ability to do the job, but in some cases it is unarguably accurate.
A box ticker is also a co-worker clearly not up to the job to the extent the decision to recruit them can only have been made because that person ticks one or more of the boxes in the employer's diversity programme.