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Job Shift: How to Prosper in a Workplace Without Jobs  
By William Bridges  

Addison-Wesley, Reading, Massachusetts, 1995, 227 p.

William Bridges’ Job Shift is a provocative book.  Its premise is that one of the single most significant factors in adult life, “the job,” is disappearing, and that our individual and national well-being require a radically different perspective on how to make a living.  Bridges is a California-based consultant and author who has spent twenty years working in the field of careers and organizational management.  In this book from the middle of the last decade, he sounds a clear call for new ways of thinking in response to trends that have accelerated in the last few years.  While some of these are more visible to people in business, much of what Bridges says has potential value for NASA people.

The first chapters form a section titled “The Late, Great Job.”  Here, the book reviews a number of factors that are resulting in a shrinkage in the number of permanent jobs, including use of contract workers, outsourcing, and continuing use of technology to replace people.  Social and managerial trends, such as reengineering and increased use of project teams, have also lead to there being fewer permanent, full-time positions in most organizations.  Historical insights serve well to put the book’s subject in perspective.  For instance, until the industrial revolution a “job” meant nothing more than “a task done for pay.”  Job = “full time, 40 hour a week activity” is a meaning that is less than 200 years old.  Bridges argues persuasively that the nature of work and the economy over the last few decades is leading us back to a more fluid, less certain situation where there’s just as much work, but where fewer and fewer people will approach the workplace in the tidy box of “a job.”

The heart of Job Shift is a four chapter section called “A Career Guide for the 21st Century Worker.”  This section starts with an invitation to think of work in terms of markets rather than as cogs in a sort of organizational machine.  Bridges’ point, which is made with a number of clear and entertaining examples, is that valuable work is a response to another person’s unmet need.  Whether as a “dejobbed” independent contractor or as an employee of an organization, workers are urged to see themselves as providing solutions, rather than as “doing my job.”  Security, in fact, lies best in being a valued provider of solutions. 

Chapter 4 provides a quick and useful way of reconceptualizing what you offer in either an internal or an external labor market.  Here, Bridges points out that it’s helpful to think of yourself in terms of D.A.T.A.  The D stands for Desires, the real interests and passions that you bring to work.  A means Abilities, the knowledge, skills and capabilities that you bring to a work situation.  T comes from Temperament, the particular make up of preferences and personal style that influences where and with whom we work best.  A means Assets, the aspects of your life and experience that create job satisfaction.   A good selection of examples from Bridges’ work with clients brings home the power of using D.A.T.A. to create satisfying and valuable work.

The second Section closes with a chapter on “Running You and Co. as a Business,” and with one on “The Psychological Aspects of Dejobbing.”  The first of these provides practical advice to the newly independent person who has chosen to act as an entrepreneur or “microbusiness” owner.  The chapter on the impact of dejobbing is one of the book’s finest.  Here Job Shift points out the power of “the job” in helping us set identity, define schedules, manage time, build relationships, and of course earn income.  Also included are ideas for developing alternate ways of getting some of the factors previously provided by “the job.”

Chapters 7 and 8 give some very topical ideas for what management of organizations, and society as a whole need to do in order to cope with a post-job workplace.  The book’s final chapter could almost stand by itself.  Here, Bridges relates the loss of “the job” to shifts in American history and the loss of the boundless frontier.  At an individual level, some excellent transition management strategies are suggested for handling issues like loss of control, the need for understanding and support, and renewal of purpose. 

Job Shift is a compelling call to reconsider the nature of work and to address at an individual, organizational and societal level the implications of a workplace with fewer “jobs.”

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Last Modified 03/22/2012