A Book Review

JOB SHIFT: How to Prosper in A Workplace Without Jobs by William Bridges. (Addison-Wesley, 1994).

Reviewed by Claude Whitmyer for AHP Perspectives (1997).

Reviewed by Claude Whitmyer. A slightly revised version of this review was published in the Journal of Management Consulting, Vol. 9, No. 3, May 1997.

Here’s a book to make you sit up and pay attention. The job as we know it is dead, and William Bridges makes a good case for why every one of us, whether worker or self-employed, should take note. As he quotes from Seneca, “The fates guide those who go willingly, those who do not, they drag.”

Bridges opens by reviewing the history of jobs and then provides a cogent account of what’s happening to the traditional notion of work. His assessment is that key driving forces are blurring the boundaries of jobs. Downsizing, outsourcing, and the use of temp workers; the total quality and re-engineering movements; the new emphasis on teams and individual empowerment; and, of course, technology, are all pushing us away from the notion of jobs as a static, stable career path and toward a more flexible 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.) He says our belief that work equals job, and our need to have a job in order to feel complete and financially secure, are acquired habits, not necessities or natural conditions.

What are the implications? Corporations must learn to function without 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 good benefits. Governments must stop measuring unemployment rates based on full-time jobs and devise new measures of economic well-being. New career services are needed to help with the transition to a society without jobs. Education must change too. Colleges must do more to prepare people for work, and adult education must blossom in response to the need for individuals to become viable entrepreneurial workers.

In 1989, I began to work with clients to prepare them for a society without jobs by offering a highly focused consulting process to help them look at personal vision, values, and goals and use that to create meaningful work. Six years and more than 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? First, we can become familiar with Bridges’ arguments. They will provide us with discussion topics and vocabulary. Second, we can decide on the extent to which we agree with his assessment, being mindful of our own resistance to change. Third, we can engage in a self-education process that helps us learn

  1. To see everything inside and outside our organization — including clients, suppliers, bosses, and subordinates — as potential customers for our services;
  2. To comprehend the changing opportunities that today’s driving forces are creating;
  3. To develop an eye for unmet needs in the marketplace that we can move to fulfill;
  4. To thoroughly understand how our own products or services will be affected by social and economic changes
  5. To acquire the skills necessary to manage these transitions. All of us must also begin handling our careers as if we are our own micro-businesses, what Bridges calls “You and Company.”

CLAUDE WHITMYER is founder and director of The Center for Good Work, offering career guidance to individuals, businesses, and nonprofits who aspire to right livelihood; Co-Founder of The University of the Future; and author of several books on work and community.

Copyright © 1996,1997 by Claude Whitmyer. All rights reserved.