A job for life? No thank you

Roger Trapp meets an author who has practised what he preaches
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William Bridges is aware that his time has come. The widespread "downsizing" and "delayering" of the Nineties has convinced even those normally beyond the reach of consultants that the world of work is undergoing a fundamental change.

The evidence for this is the growing outrage of the traditional middle class over the threat to those middle-management jobs that some deemed theirs by right. But Mr Bridges has his own personal indicator. Transitions, a book about the "psychological process of change" that grew out of his inquiries into this area a couple of decades ago,has sold a quarter of a million copies worldwide. Now, excerpts from his latest, Jobshift, are appearing in national newspapers and Mr Bridges has become a sought-after interviewee.

Though pleased by the recognition, the author - who speaks with the measured tones of the English literature professor that he was until an interest in psychology led to his own transition 20 years ago - seems unfazed by it. "I see our historical moment as one of those major pivot points," he says, while stressing that changes of this sort have happened before.

The Industrial Revolution, which introduced the idea of a fixed job in one place, occurred just 150 years ago, he points out. No doubt people then thought their world was ending.

Here, Mr Bridges, who advises corporations from his base near San Francisco, is eager to clear up a misunderstanding: he is not predicting an end to work - just the conventional job. While these changes may seem threatening, and will have economic and social effects, they can also provide a release. Some people have flourished under the job-based system - mainly, he says, white, middle-class males - but others have been excluded.

"The upper class never needed jobs, and the under class has been closed out of decent jobs, having to make do with casual labour," he says. Moreover, employers' propensity for hiring people in their own image has tended to exclude those from racial minorities as well as women.

In a world where workers will be less inclined to tie themselves to one company and more likely to view themselves as suppliers of services to a variety of customers, such barriers may be lowered, he believes.

More important, perhaps, is a change in the attitudes of those coming into work. Early on in Jobshift, Mr Bridges describes one of those acronyms so beloved of consultants. "Data" derives from Desires - what you really want to do; Abilities - what you are really good at; Temperament - what sort of person you are and what situations you work best in; and Assets - what advantages you have.

In his parents' generation little heed was given to the first element. You did what your family had always done, be it farming or teaching. Childhood passions were rarely indulged.

It has taken the appearance of Generation X, the 18 - to 29-year-olds in North America and Europe who are deemed to have rejected the values of the past, to challenge that stance, he adds. Their parents may not understand them, but in their willingness to hold out for work that really motivates them, they may be better prepared to handle the new conditions.

He does not believe teleworking will lead to everybody working in isolation in their own homes. Instead, there is already a blurring of the line between work and home.

"Organisations will wake up to seeing their people are not there all the time," he says. And just because they are not in the office does not mean they will not be working. Developments in information technology will allow many to work as and when they want. And just because they do not have a full-time commitment to a single organisation does not mean they will have long periods of idleness.

`Jobshift' is published today by Nicholas Brealey, £16.99.