JOB SHIFT: How to Prosper in a Workplace Without Jobs

By William Bridges (Addison-Wesley, 1994).

Reviewed by Claude Whitmyer for AHP Perspective and The Journal of Management Consulting, Vol. 9, No. 3, May 1997.

The job as we know it is dead!

Change consultant and author William Bridges makes a strong case for why every one of us, worker and self-employed alike, should take note, sit up and pay attention.

Quoting from Seneca, Bridges reminds us, “The fates guide those who go willingly, those who do not, they drag.”

He opens Job Shift with a review of the history of jobs and work-for-wages, how the terms have evolved and what some of our cherished job and work-related beliefs are today.

Bridge’s assessment: key driving forces are blurring the boundaries of work and jobs. Driving forces that include:

  • Downsizing
  • Outsourcing
  • The use of temp workers
  • The total quality and re-engineering movements
  • The new emphasis on teams and individual empowerment
  • The impact of technology

These forces each push us away from the notion of jobs as a static, stable career path toward seeing our career as more driven by talent and skills and unfolding across several jobs as our careers mature.

They are also pushing us more toward a reality of temporary job assignments based on the skills needed to do the tasks at hand.

Bridges calls all this the “Second Job Shift.” (The first shift came with the Industrial Revolution and its sharp division of labor into specialties on behalf of increased productivity.)

According to Bridges, our belief that “work” equals “job” and our need to “get a job” or “have a job” may make us, temporarily, feel more complete and financially secure but these ideas are acquired habits, not necessities or natural conditions.

What are the implications?

  • Corporations must learn to function without static, long-term “employment” type jobs.
  • Individuals must learn to manage their careers as if they were in business for themselves.
  • Unions and guilds must replace traditional job security with education, skills training, and collective buying power for benefits.
  • Governments must stop measuring unemployment rates based on full-time jobs and devise new measures of economic well-being.
  • New career services must be offered to help with the transition to a society without static jobs.
  • Colleges must do more to prepare people for work, including project management, team building, and work contracts.
  • Continuing adult education must blossom in response to the need for individuals to become viable entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial workers.

Vision, Values, Goals

In 1989, I began offering a focused consulting process to help clients prepare for a society without jobs. The process starts by clarifying personal vision, values, and goals and then moves on to create long-term, meaningful work.

Six years and 300 clients later, I’ve come to agree with most of Bridges’ observations about the driving forces in today’s world and the impact they are having on our work lives.

Increasingly, my clients are finding that entrepreneurial skills enable them to regain control of careers derailed by the effects of organizational and societal change.

What can we do to move more smoothly through this transition?

1. First, we can become familiar with Bridges’ arguments. They will provide us with discussion topics and vocabulary.

2. Second, we can decide on the extent to which we agree with his assessment, being mindful of our own resistance to change.

3. Third, we can engage in a self-education process that helps us learn

a) to see everything inside and outside our organization, including clients, suppliers, bosses, and subordinates, as potential customers for our services;

b) to comprehend the changing opportunities that today’s driving forces are creating

c) to develop an eye for unmet needs in the marketplace that we can move to fulfill;

d) to thoroughly understand how our own products or services will be affected by social and economic changes;

e) to acquire the skills necessary to manage these transitions.

f) We must also begin handling our careers as if we are each the owner of a tiny, micro-business, what Bridges calls “You and Company.”

Summary

This is an engaging, thought-provoking examination of the near future of society and work, well worth reading for the powerful guidance it offers for smoothing out the rough waters of change.

The Author

Claude Whitmyer is a consultant in the multi-media delivery of university and corporate training programs. He also provides career guidance to executives, managers, and employees who want to master the new workplace requirements.

Mr. Whitmyer is coordinator of the Briarpatch, a worldwide network of businesses that practice right livelihood and simple living. Claude is co-author of the best-selling book of its kind Running A One-Person Business (60,000 copies in print) as well as a contributor to and editor of two anthologies: Mindfulness and Meaningful Work: Explorations in Right Livelihood and In the Company of Others: Making Community in the Modern World.

Copyright © 1996, 1997 by Claude Whitmyer. All rights reserved. Originally published in AHP Perspective, 1996 and a revised version in The Journal of Management Consulting, Vol. 9, No. 3, May 1997. Permission is hereby granted to link to this page, but not to copy or reproduce this content in any form electronic or otherwise.