According to recent opinion surveys, almost everyone wants work in pleasant surroundings offering a chance for personal growth and mingling with nice people. Workers expect, of course, to be paid in money, but even non-professionals now consider pay less important than the nature of the work itself and a say in deciding working conditions and schedules.

Along with this new interest in the quality of life on the job goes a new willingness to sacrifice off-the-job satisfaction for money or advancement. Employers find people more interested than before in early retirement, and less willing to put in long hours or to move to new community for a promotion.

Does this mean the erosion of the work ethic in America? The deterioration of our moral fiber? Fortunately, the explanation is simpler and closer to home-so close, that it falls in the blind spot of most men.

The fact is that so many wives have been entering the work force that most married workers are now members of two-paycheck families, and, while both salaries are needed, the result is that men as well as women feel a little freer than in the past to talk back to the boss.

Big-business opponents of the Equal Rights Amendment aren't worried that women will stop being dependent upon men; they're worried that men will stop being dependent upon bosses. An extra paycheck at home makes it easier to speak out against company policy, fight arbitrary dismissal or transfer and enforce newly established legal rights to see personnel records or to be considered for promotion.

An extra paycheck at home means that employers can no longer maintain the fiction that every worker is a male "head of household," free to slave away from 9 to 5 or later every day without every having to concern himself with what he's going to eat that night, or whether he's got a clean pair socks for tommorrow. In many organizations, the only man whose wife is at home is the boss.

Work rules are eroding under human pressure. Personal business is now regularly transacted on company time. Enterprising employees make deals with the office to take "lunch" hours at the end of the day, or to give up a number of vacation days for permission to come in a few minutes late every morning. The really entrepreneurial types sell the boss on packaging work so that it can be done at home, or splitting it among two or three fellow workers so that it fits in with their off-the-job schedules.

Having two paychecks in most homes means shifting power from employers to employees in ways that will radically restructure how we all earn our livings. Eventually, for instance, more pay will be taken in the form of leisure. Not only more part-time and "flexitime" schedules, but also different kinds of time out-with pay and without it: maternity leave, parental leave, educational leave and just plain I'm-taking-a-year-off-to-go-around-the-world leave.

Jobs now designed for male heads of households will have to be set up in ways that will appeal to women, students and workers in semiretirement. Employers will have to experiment with a smorgasbord of schedules, incentives and compensation packages to make the work fit varying life styles and life stages.

By 1980, two-thirds of all women and four-fifths of all men will be working. Where will all the new jobs come from? As in the past, newcomers to the work force will make work for each other. When everyone goes out of the house to work, we will need more nurses to care for people too sick to be left alone but not sick enough to go to hospitals; we will need more patrolmen for childless neighborhoods deserted during working hours; more hotels, restaurants, lawn services, poodle-groomers and people groomers.

As in the past, volunteer jobs will develop into paid positions. The new earners will generate money to pay Cub Scout den mothers, PTA presidents and organizers of support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous. Ombudsmanship may become a profession, with practitioners moving from the university to the corporation to the Army, as accountants now do. The cold fact is that work is done better when it's done for money.

Most important, more choice lies ahead-for everybody. In the future, men will enjoy the luxury-available heretofore only to middle-class wives-of taking the jobs that they really like doing.