THE END OF THE JOB As a way of organizing work, it is a social artifact that has outlived its usefulness. Its demise confronts everyone with unfamiliar risks -- and rich opportunities.
By William Bridges From JobShift, by William Bridges, to be published in October of 1994 by Addison-Wesley Publishing Co. Copyright (c) William Bridges.

(FORTUNE Magazine) – EVERY MORNING'S newspaper carries another story of new job losses. We hear the recession has been over for quite a while, but the percentage of workers who are jobless has not fallen as after previous recessions. The Clinton Administration is trying to create jobs, but critics claim some of its new taxes and regulations will destroy jobs. We are told the only way to protect our jobs is to increase our productivity, but then we discover that reengineering, using self-managed teams, flattening our organizations, and turning routine work over to computers always make many jobs redundant. We used to read predictions that by 2000 everyone would work 30-hour weeks, and the rest would be leisure. But as we approach 2000 it seems more likely that half of us will be working 60-hour weeks and the rest of us will be unemployed. What's wrong? It is not that the President or his critics don't care what happens to us, or that organizations that asked for our loyalty and grew because of our efforts have double-crossed us. The fault does not lie even with that dread monster overseas competition, which has been blamed for everything from unemployment to falling living standards. It's a shame these things are not the culprits, for if they were our task would be simpler. The reality we face is much more troubling, for what is disappearing is not just a certain number of jobs -- or jobs in certain industries or jobs in some part of the country or even jobs in America as a whole. What is disappearing is the very thing itself: the job. That much sought after, much maligned social entity, a job, is vanishing like a species that has outlived its evolutionary time. A century from now Americans will look back and marvel that we couldn't see more clearly what was happening. They will remark how fixated we were on this game of musical jobs in which, month after month, new waves of people had to drop out. They will sympathize with the suffering we were going through but will comment that it came from trying to play the game by the old rules. The modern world is on the verge of another huge leap in creativity and productivity, but the job is not going to be part of tomorrow's economic reality. There still is and will always be enormous amounts of work to do, but it is not going to be contained in the familiar envelopes we call jobs. In fact, many organizations are today well along the path toward being "de- jobbed." The job is a social artifact, though it is so deeply embedded in our consciousness that most of us have forgotten its artificiality or the fact that most societies since the beginning of time have done just fine without jobs. The job is an idea that emerged early in the 19th century to package the work that needed doing in the growing factories and bureaucracies of the industrializing nations. Before people had jobs, they worked just as hard but on shifting clusters of tasks, in a variety of locations, on a schedule set by the sun and the weather and the needs of the day. The modern job was a startling new idea -- and to many, an unpleasant and perhaps socially dangerous one. Critics claimed it was an unnatural and even inhuman way to work. They believed most people wouldn't be able to live with its demands. It is ironic that what started as a controversial concept ended up becoming the ultimate orthodoxy -- and that we're hooked on jobs. Now the world of work is changing again: The conditions that created jobs 200 years ago -- mass production and the large organization -- are disappearing. Technology enables us to automate the production line, where all those job holders used to do their repetitive tasks. Instead of long production runs where the same thing has to be done again and again, we are increasingly customizing production. Big firms, where most of the good jobs used to be, are unbundling activities and farming them out to little firms, which have created or taken over profitable niches. Public services are starting to be privatized, and government bureaucracy, the ultimate bastion of job security, is being thinned. With the disappearance of the conditions that created jobs, we are losing the need to package work in that way. No wonder jobs are disappearing.

TO AN EXTENT that few people have recognized, our organizational world is no longer a pattern of jobs, the way a honeycomb is a pattern of those little hexagonal pockets of honey. In place of jobs, there are part-time and temporary work situations. That change is symptomatic of a deeper change that is subtler but more profound. The deeper change is this: Today's organization is rapidly being transformed from a structure built out of jobs into a field of work needing to be done. Jobs are artificial units superimposed on this field. They are patches of responsibility that, together, are supposed to cover the work that needs to be done. His job is to take care of this, hers is to take care of that, and yours is to take care of the other thing. Together you usually get the work done, though there are always scraps and pieces of work that don't quite fall into anyone's job description, and over time job responsibilities have to be adjusted and new jobs added to keep getting everything done. When the economy was changing much more slowly, the discrepancies between the job matrix and the work field could be forgotten. If new technology opened up a new area in the work field, new jobs could be created to cover the new work that needed doing. If a new market opened up, new jobs could be created to serve it. If a new law or judicial ruling required an organization to do something different, new jobs could be created to take care of the situation. But in a fast-moving economy, jobs are rigid solutions to an elastic problem. We can rewrite a person's job description occasionally, but not every week. When the work that needs doing changes constantly, we cannot afford the inflexibility that the job brings with it. Further, at a time when competitive organizations must reduce head count, jobs -- those boxes on the organization chart, with regular duties, hours, and salaries -- encourage hiring. They do this by cutting work up into "turfs," which in turn require more turfs (and more hiring) whenever a new area opens up. They encourage additional hiring by giving managers a level of power commensurate with the number of turf areas for which they are responsible: The more areas, the more power. Jobs also discourage accountability because they reward people not for getting the necessary work done but for "doing their jobs." Jobs are no longer socially adaptive. That is why they are going the way of the dinosaur. Organizations, like individuals, will have trouble shifting their expectations and habits to fit the new post-job world. Some will try to get by with job cuts, reducing the number of hands and heads that do the work but leaving in place the old idea that work must be packaged into jobs. Not surprisingly, such organizations find that removing job holders leaves holes in the job field and that less work gets done as a result. An American Management Association survey of companies that had made "major staff cuts" between 1987 and 1992 found that, despite the reduced labor costs, less than half improved their operating earnings -- while one in four saw earnings drop. More ominously, said the AMA's report, "these figures were even worse for companies that undertook a second or third round of downsizing." Many companies that fail to get their expected results with the first round of cuts simply repeat the process. Other companies cut jobs and use temps to fill in the spaces or build in staffing flexibility. Tomorrow's organization certainly must turn a significant part of its work over to a contingent work force that can grow and shrink and reshape itself as its situation demands. But note that even the most creative work design begs the question of how unready most organizations are to manage this work force of temps, part-timers, consultants, and contract workers effectively. A large manufacturer that used office temps extensively found that the temporaries on the clerical staff, lacking loyalty to the organization, had leaked details of the company plan for union negotiations to the union that represented the manufacturing employees. A worker at another company, a condom maker, found that "every time you'd get a big batch of new ((temp factory workers)), you'd start finding more holes in the condoms." Other companies couple job cuts with reorganization. This makes more sense, since it recognizes that you can't just take pieces out of a system and expect it to keep working well. But while the goal may be more defensible, the process causes so much distress and disruption that the change meant to strengthen the company often ends up weakening it. That is because such changes force people to switch jobs, a process that undermines the three qualities that Michael Beer and his Harvard colleagues have identified as the source of competitive advantage: competence, coordination, and commitment. People are moved to unfamiliar jobs (competence declines), they are working in new teams, for new bosses, and with new customers (coordination declines), and they are demoralized by their new insecurity and the loss of co-worker friends (commitment declines). Still other companies seize on one of the cure-alls of the day -- empowerment, flattening the organization, self-directed teams, TQM, reengineering, flex-time, telecommuting, job sharing -- and hope it will do the trick. Any of these efforts can improve the organization, but all are compromised by the fact that everyone has a job. For as long as people are expending their energies on doing their jobs, they aren't going to be focused on the customer, or be self-managers, or be empowerable. They won't be able to capitalize on the possibilities of empowerment, automation, or anything else. The answer is to create the post-job organization. It is ironic that most organizations need employees to stop acting like job holders, yet they know only how to hire, pay, communicate with, and manage job holders. Most organizations also maintain policies, strategies, training programs, and structures meant to enable employees to be more successful in their job activities. In fact, a wave of job-free workers intent on doing what needs to be done rather than on doing their jobs would wreck most traditional organizations. Just as individuals need to rethink their assumptions and strategies, organizations too will have to rethink almost everything they do. Look at the characteristics of the post-job organization. The first is that it hires the right people. That sounds obvious, but it means something quite different in an organization that is no longer job-based than it does where one is hiring to fill slots. To begin with, you must find people who can work well without the cue system of job descriptions. At Ideo, America's largest industrial design firm, in Palo Alto, no one has a title or a boss. The head of marketing there, Tom Kelly, leaves no doubt about the importance of hiring: "If you hire the right people -- if you've got the right fit -- then everything will take care of itself." Even the right people will produce poor results if organized in the old way. Yes, complex hierarchies are out and the flattened organization is in, but not because that is fashionable. Rather, the post-job employee's necessary vendor- mindedness -- thinking of himself or herself as an independent business -- just doesn't mix with hierarchy. The post-job employee is going to need a much more flexible organization than most can easily find today. How to create this flexibility? Organizations using such workers most successfully are finding a number of approaches effective. Common to many is a reliance on project teams. The project-based organization is not a new idea; 25 years ago Melvin Anshen wrote in the Harvard Business Review that traditionally structured organizations were inherently designed to maintain the status quo rather than to respond to the changing demands of the market. But, he noted, "the single organization pattern that is free from this built-in bias ((toward maintaining the status quo)) is the project cluster.'' Since those words were written, companies like EDS, Intel, and Microsoft have used the project as their essential building block -- though "block" is far too fixed and rigid a term to describe the way projects are actually used.

STUDY a fast-moving organization like Intel and you'll see a person hired and likely assigned to a project. It changes over time, and the person's responsibilities and tasks change with it. Then the person is assigned to another project (well before the first project is finished), and then maybe to still another. These additional projects, which also evolve, require working under several team leaders, keeping different schedules, being in various places, and performing a number of different tasks. Hierarchy implodes, not because someone theorizes that it should but because under these conditions it cannot be maintained. Several workers on such teams that Tom Peters interviewed used the same phrase: "We report to each other." In such a situation people no longer take their cues from a job description or a supervisor's instructions. Signals come from the changing demands of the project. Workers learn to focus their individual efforts and collective resources on the work that needs doing, changing as that changes. Managers lose their "jobs," too, for their value can be defined only by how they facilitate the work of the project teams or how they contribute to it as a member. No good word exists for the place that an individual fills in this kind of organization: It isn't a "job"; "position" sounds too fixed; "role" sounds too unitary. Whatever it is, it is changing and multiple. It is a package of capabilities, drawn upon variously in different project-based situations. Anything that stands in the way of rapid regrouping has to go. Some of what it takes to run the organization moving beyond jobs is part of the environment: the databases and the networking technology, for example, that make it possible for a delocalized operation to function effectively. Such technology, one of the forces transforming organizations and de-jobbing the workplace, is part of the emerging organizational infrastructure. It was out there waiting to be utilized. Not so with the social and cultural infrastructure for this kind of work world. Far less developed, not yet widely embraced, and lagging behind the technical, these nascent infrastructures threaten to undermine the new work world. You cannot run a post-job organization the same way you ran the organization when it was job-based. Policies on work hours, for example, won't be the same. Compensation plans will have to change. New training programs will be needed. A different kind of communication is essential. Careers have to be reconceptualized, and career-development has to be reinvented. New redeployment mechanisms become necessary. And the whole idea and practice of "management" need to be re-created from scratch. Many organizations have experimented with flex-time, job sharing, and telecommuting, but the disappearance of jobs puts all these into a new context. Standardized work hours and places, and the equation of one person and one job, were products of mass production and the government bureaucracies occasioned by it. They were wholly irrelevant to the pre-job world and would have been burdensome checks on productivity. Take job sharing. Work was usually shared in arrangements that varied with the demands of the situation. Only when work was divided up into activity packages and distributed one to a person in the form of jobs did anyone imagine that anything but talent, proximity, strength, and availability would determine who did what and when. Of course once you have divided up the common task into jobs, then anyone whose other responsibilities, physical capabilities, or financial needs make a "whole job" unappealing or unworkable will suggest job sharing. But if jobs disappear, there is no longer any reason to treat these eight- hour chunks of effort as the building blocks from which the organizational structure is assembled. Not that job sharing will be permitted in the post-job organization -- much more than that: The issue disappears. Naturally work will be shared. People working on more than one project are already dividing their job into several pieces. If you spend four hours doing A, two doing B, and two doing C; if Sally spends two hours doing A, four doing B, and two doing C; and if Dave spends two hours doing A, two doing B, and four doing C -- then you are all job sharing already. What will the post-job policy be on job sharing? It will be to put the old policy in the Policy Museum as an artifact of a bygone age and get on with doing the work that needs doing. The same thing will happen to policies on flex-time and telecommuting. These matters will be governed partly by the demands of the work and partly by other economic factors, which can include the cost of office space, the availability of technological linkages between delocalized co-workers, and such idiosyncratic matters as the parties' family responsibilities, commuting conditions, and whether they work better early in the day or late. Self- employed workers always take all these matters into account, and so will post-job workers. How about policies on leaves of absence, vacations, and retirement? Leaves from what? Vacations from what? Retirement from what? The post-job worker will be far more likely to be hired for a project or a fixed length of time than a job holder is today. Working and leisure are no longer governed by the calculus of constant employment. Without the job, time off from work becomes something not taken out of job time but something taken during the interims between assignments or between project contracts. And retirement? As ever more people become businesses in themselves, retirement will become an individual matter that has less to do with organizational policy and more to do with individual circumstances and desires. IF SELF-EMPLOYMENT is any guide, the de-jobbed worker will likely be a stern taskmaster. This worker is losing with the job a definition of what is enough -- of what constitutes a day's work and entitles one to go home satisfied. Add the fact that the de-jobbed worker will be scheduling his or her own employment and trying, like any independent professional, to make hay while the sun shines. The result is that de-jobbed workers will have to learn to pace themselves. For the organization, leave policies, vacation policies, and retirement policies will become relatively insignificant. Still not quite clear is what the post-job manager will have to do. Everyone agrees that tomorrow's worker, untrammeled by old constraints of hierarchy and job boundaries, will be far more independent and self-directed than today's. Will such a worker even need managing in anything like the accepted sense of the word? Michael Hammer, the consultant who has done most to advance reengineering, leaves no doubt where he stands: "Middle management as we currently know it will simply disappear." Three-quarters of middle managers will vanish, he says, many returning to the " 'real' work" they did before they were promoted into management, with the remainder filling a role that "will change almost beyond recognition." How? "To oversimplify, there will be two main flavors of ((new style)) managers: process managers and employee coaches. Process managers will oversee, end to end, a reengineered process, such as order fulfillment or product development. Their skills ((will need to be those of)) performance management and work redesign. Employee coaches will support and nurture employees -- much as senior managers do in corporate America today.'' It is not too much to say that we have reached the point where we must talk about the end of management. The reason is that the manager was created only a little more than a century ago to oversee and direct the work of people who held jobs. Before that, there were masters and gang bosses and commanders and overseers, but there were no managers. People were led, but whatever management existed was self-management. That is what we are returning to -- with a crucial difference. The old self-management was taking care of yourself while you followed the leader. The new self-management is acting toward the business at hand as if you had an ownership stake in it. This means that tomorrow's executive, coordinator, facilitator, or whatever we choose to call the non-manager will have to provide people with direct access to information that was once the domain of decisionmakers. Tomorrow's employees and contractors will have to understand the whys and wherefores of the organization's strategy far better than today's do; they will have to understand the organization's problems, weaknesses, and challenges realistically. The de-jobbed worker will need to be much clearer on the organization's vision and values than the job-based worker needed to be. In a job-based environment, you just do your job. In a de-jobbed environment, you / do what needs to be done to honor and realize the organization's vision and values. Specifically, companies that have already begun to employ de-jobbed workers effectively seem to share at least four traits: (1) They encourage rank-and- file employees to make the kind of operating decisions that used to be reserved for managers. (2) They give people the information that they need to make such decisions -- information that used to be given only to managers. (3) They give employees lots of training to create the kind of understanding of business and financial issues that no one but an owner or an executive used to be concerned with. (4) They give people a stake in the fruits of their labor -- a share of company profits. The organization that wants to move down the path toward the post-job future must answer several key questions: -- Is work being done by the right people? -- Are the core tasks -- requiring and protecting the special competencies of the organization -- being done in-house, and are other tasks being given to vendors or subcontractors, temps or term hires, or to the customers themselves? -- Are the people who do the work in each of those categories chosen in such a way that their desires, abilities, temperaments, and assets are matched with the demands of the task? -- Are such workers compensated in the most appropriate way? -- Is everyone involved -- not just the core employees -- given the business information they need to understand their part in the larger task? Do they have the understanding needed to think like business people? -- Does the way people are organized and managed help them complete their assignments, or does it tie them to outmoded expectations and job-based assumptions? Too often new ways of doing things are viewed as add-ons: "If we ever get a spare moment around here, let's flatten the organization chart!'' That's a big mistake, of course. Part of the reason there is so little time is that most of today's organizations are trying to use outmoded and underpowered organizational forms to do tomorrow's work. They insert an empowerment program here and a new profit-sharing plan there and then announce that those things aren't so great after all because profits are still falling. Such organizations won't have better results until they do two things. First, get rid of jobs. Second, redesign the organization to get the best out of a de- jobbed worker. A big task, sure. But like any evolutionary challenge, it will separate the survivors from the extinct.