Our jobs often keep us so busy we don't have time to think much about where our careers are going.

We look ahead only "in terms of our next vacation or the next pay raise," says futurist David Pearce Synder. "We're so overwhelmed by the task of getting from day to day, that we miss "signals about our future" from news articles and other sources that could dramatically alter our personal and professional lives.

Synder's job as life-styles editor for The Futurist Magazine is to take that long look ahead, to forecast what changes the years will bring.

Synder peered into the future recently for employes of University Research Corporation, a Bethesda human-services consulting firm, who wanted a glimpse of "work styles in the '80s."

Many of us, suggests Snyder, may wind up the decade -- with the help of a computer -- working out of our homes. For one thing, the rising cost of gasoline may increase pressures for such energy-efficient changes in work styles.

America, as it becomes a white-collar nation, is moving, Snyder says, "toward knowledge and information work." Though our industrial output may be slackening, information is an export in demand. "We're becoming the great schoolhouse for the world's 3 billion people."

Information dissemination, he says, may be adapted readily to the worker at home, connected by computer to a central office and its resources. He sees a trend toward more self-employment, with individuals negotiating a contract (rather than hiring on at salary) to produce their research speciality at home. (

Already, as the Internal Revenue Service has noted, the number of self-employed -- while not large -- is growing.

A benefit to the alert worker, says Snyder, is that this sort of future brings "more opportunities to make your own kind of jobs. You can put your own package together -- something I can do that will be useful and marketable."

This trend fits right in with that Americans are saying they want out of life. What emerges from over 150 attitude and opinion surveys, says Snyder, is that "people want more control over their lives and the destinies of their families."

The people happiest with their jobs, studies indicate, are the self-employed. Even management-level employes -- the people with the big bucks -- are grumbling more about working conditions.

Synder discounts the notion that we will become lonely and isolated working in our homes instead of at a busy office. Studies show, he says, that people rank the office fourth as a place to experience "their most rewarding or meaningful relationships. The job comes after the "family, friends and social contacts and professional contacts."

Making one of the biggest impacts on the workplace in the upcoming decade will be the World War II "baby boom" generation (which Snyder puts at beginning in 1940 and peaking in 1958). Like a boa constricter trying to digest an elephant, our institutions have had trouble absorbing this mass of young Americans as they've moved from crib to school to the job market.

The large numbers are expected to cause "considerable turmoil" as they move into mid-level positions. By 1990, Synder estimates, the 25- to 44-year-old workers "will represent 50 to 55 percent of the total labor force." 4That will mean stiff competition for promotion.

"In 1975," he says, "there was an average of 10 candidates for every middle-management vacancy. By the mid-1980s, there will be an average of 19 candidates for each such vacancy."

Of those 19, he expects, three will be black, three will be women and one or two will be Hispanic -- "all seeking to avail themselves of affirmative action entitlements."

Planners fear, he says, that these "demographic realities" could lead to "increased employe frustration" -- "with overtones of interracial, intergender and inter-generational tensions."

At the same time, those companies recruiting younger people are going to have a hard time finding them because -- after the glut of the baby boom -- there are fewer young people around. And those that are, because they are increasingly looking for "meaningful" and "important" work, tend to shun "rote" jobs.

The impact already has been felt at the IRS, says Snyder, which employes 30,000 key punchers to feed 100 million income-tax returns into the computer. Up until two years ago, the IRS "had an easy time" filling the jobs. Now they are considering hiring after-school teen-agers, and delivering bundles of forms to part-timers working in their homes.

Snyder sees these other development in the '80s:

To attract and keep younger workers, a reduction by companies of "Mickey Mouse work." They will have to institute "flextime" so workers "won't have to be at a job at a particular time when it makes no difference."

Women continuing "to represent an ever-increasing proportion of the U.S. labor force. By 1990, women will make up nearly 50 percent of the work force, up from 43 percent in 1980."

The level of education continuing to grow to meet the demands of white-collar work. In addition, people will increasingly think in terms "of educating yourself out of a slot that you're not happy with." The labor market outlook, says Snyder, "is very positive if people want to invest in themselves."

The demand for skilled labor in information work going up rapidly.

"Responsibility" and a "sense of accomplishment" increasingly rating higher with workers than a higher income and job security.

White-collar employes -- at least in the near future -- turning to labor unions. Surveys, says Snyder, show most feel "they basically deliver the goods for workers being trod upon by management."

With both spouses working, more jobs opening up in such areas as day-care, professional lawn-care, and house-cleaning services. "People who are good at domestic management" are setting up businesses "all over the country."

Americans, says Snyder, are increasingly making "rationalized" choices in their life styles. In the workplace, this means that employers who want to retain the loyalty of their workers (salaried or contract) are going to have to be more creative in the kind of work environment they provide.