Disaggregating the concept of "the job"


Why do we say “I'm going to work” and not “I'm going to my job” and why is that relevant in the future world of work?

Today, we have jobs we’re paid to perform a specific role for a certain number of hours each week and we get a somewhat predictable salary in return. But it wasn’t always so.

Until the Industrial Revolution, work existed but jobs didn’t. 

The phrase “jobbe of worke” meaning “a task” dates back to the 1600’s but the first time “job” was used to mean a "paid position of employment" was in 1858. Before that, people had work as innkeepers or ran a farm but didn't have what we today would call a job. That all changed in the  mid-19th Century,  when people started moving to work in factories, where they were employed in what we would recognize today as “jobs”.

This was a fundamental economic, social and demographic change in the world of work. It created the very concept of what a job was by aggregating various components of work elements leading to organization structures, job descriptions, compensation plans, and so on – the essence of the workplace today.

So the reason we say “I’m going to work” is that the idea of the job is a relatively recent invention, so we still talk in 19th century terms about what we do for the most part of our day.

And if predictions of how the Intelligence Revolution will impact the workplace – smart computers, networks, robotics, automation, machine learning – the whole idea of a job has a short shelf life. In the way that the Industrial Revolution aggregated work into jobs, the Intelligence Revolution with its “thinking computers” will drive changes that will disaggregate the whole concept of jobs back into their work elements. 

This is not as far out as it might appear. We see it today in the growth of the gig economy, zero hour contracts, people renting out their cars, homes, lawnmowers and even dogs. Work will always be there, but jobs will change, go or be totally reinvented. And whereas people traditionally have gone to where the work was (office, factories), in the future, the work to go to where the people are.

The Industrial Revolution was all about manual work; the intelligence Revolution is all about mind work. If the Industrial Revolution brought “brawn”, the Intelligence Revolution will bring “brain”.

These changes raise some important questions for organisations and in particularly for their Human Resource departments. What will this new world look like? What kind of talent will we need to thrive?  Where do we find it? When do we start looking? How will humans and computers fit in this new world economy? 

These will be topics for future blogs.