Charles Handy* is probably my favourite management guru, one of the few who brings the worlds of feeling and spirit into this area. He was among the first to foresee the huge changes in our ways of working in the past twenty years, and he coined the term portfolio working. He suggests that work is like savings: it’s unwise to invest everything in one place. The notion of a linear career, a steady progression in one line of work from school leaver to gold watch at 65, is pretty obsolete, but what’s to replace it?
Handy suggests that we think of work as any activity with a productive output, and that we aim for a portfolio of work, so that we have diverse sources of income and satisfaction. This should also mean that if one piece of our work portfolio disappears, we are not up the creek. He writes of five types of work for the portfolio:
Wage work: where money is paid for time inputs.
Fee work: where money is paid for results delivered. This type of work, more typical of self-employment, is growing rapidly, especially as more jobs are outsourced.
Homework: this includes cleaning, shopping, raising kids: rarely paid, but still vital.
Gift work: this is voluntary, unpaid work helping others, whether in your local community or beyond.
Study work: this includes training and learning for new skills, and is growing in scale as change speeds up.
One great benefit of looking at your work from the portfolio viewpoint is that you now have several strands to consider, not one. You probably have a range of needs from your work, such as money, social contact, learning, fulfilment, and you may look to different parts of your portfolio to fulfil these various needs. Handy believes that the idea of retirement has become obsolete, and I agree with him: the portfolio makes it much easier to see your work as a transition across time. As you get into your 60s and 70s, you may no longer have the energy, desire or financial need to spend as much time earning money, but you will probably still want a work portfolio of some kind.
* The Age of Unreason by Charles Handy. ISBN 0-09-975740-0. Charles Handy is one of the most perceptive writers about the world of work, and its relationship to human needs: including the search for meaning, and to the immense changes coming from technology and economic pressures.