Work without Jobs is about how work is changing, inexorably, in ways that will eventually transform every aspect of society. Deeply researched and compelling, this is the book to read this year if you want to gain a deep understanding of how work is changing and what it might mean for your organization. Full of history, data, research, and ideas, it will be an invaluable resource for academics and practitioners alike.
Reading the title, the first thing that comes to mind is likely the gig economy, or the gradual lessening of mutual commitment between employees and employers, along with the rise in freelance work and short-term assignments. In other words, fewer of us will be full time employees for extended periods in the same organization. Fewer jobs, more work. But the authors are not so much focused on whether you’re employed by a single company as whether the work you do can accurately be described as a “job.” The book’s overarching idea is that people will be engaged in work in far more fluid ways than the term job, with its implication of a finite set of specific responsibilities, can convey.
They are interested in questions that are hard to answer, without a crystal ball. How, for example, will work be organized to encompass a perpetually changing mix of full time employees, part time employees, contractors, freelancers, gig workers, robots, volunteers, and more? How will society be reshaped as a result?
As the book makes clear, the future of work will be complex and dynamic and fraught with both ethical and practical dilemmas. How we will navigate these challenges, and who will be most influential in doing so, are important, highly related areas for continued study. But the book’s core idea that work will be increasingly disconnected from jobs. That does not mean you won’t have an employer, nor that you won’t be able to stay at a single organization for a long time. It does mean that you will not be hired by an employer to deliver a knowable, limited set of tasks tied to a job or job description. Nor will your advancement opportunities involve being promoted out of one job, into another better one.
Despite the ambitious, encompassing topic covered in this book, the authors manage to provide practical ideas that will help managers and work-seekers alike navigate the fluid world that lies ahead. I particularly appreciated the authors’ emphasis on starting with what needs to be done: rather than designing a job, we must figure out the objectives we’re trying to serve, and go backwards from there to how best to achieve them. What role will automation play? What role will people play? What skills and competencies will be needed, in what sequence?
There is too much covered in the book for me to do it justice here, but I would be remiss in not mentioning its clear, elegant writing, which makes the prospect of learning about how work is changing an enjoyable investment of time.