Redefining Work

The work you do shapes who you are. It changes your relationships and beliefs, your knowledge and skills, and the way you see the world. It can also take away the things that make you feel good about yourself, and leave you feeling empty or even depressed. It can be hard to keep a balance between all the positive and negative ways your work impacts you.

If you ask a scientist what qualifies as work, you’ll likely get a different answer than from a business leader or a janitor. Scientists define work as “the transfer of energy.” So for something to qualify as work, a force must be exerted on an object and there must be movement or displacement. The relative direction of the force and the displacement determines whether the work done is positive, negative, or zero.

Physicists use the term energy to describe the amount of work an object does, and they measure it in units called joules (J). One joule is equal to the amount of energy expended when a force of one newton moves an object a distance of one meter.

In everyday life, we often hear people say that someone is doing a lot of work when they are pushing a heavy object, lifting it off the floor, or climbing a ladder. But is that really the case? The answer is no. While those actions involve a large amount of effort, they don’t do any work in the scientific sense. For something to do work, it must change in some way — and the change has to be an increase in energy.

The reason why is simple: If you have a force and a change in position, the object has energy, but if you just hold the object and don’t move it, there is no change in energy and no work is done. The only time an object does work is when it is moving through space.

When you lift a heavy weight off the ground, it increases its potential energy by changing position, or its distance from the ground. That’s why the weight has energy — it gained gravitational potential energy by moving through space.

Redefining work requires rethinking what it means to be productive and reimagining how we can achieve our true potential in the modern workplace. It requires cultivating and drawing on intrinsic human capabilities to undertake work for fundamentally different purposes. And it requires redefining how we value and reward work. It shouldn’t be measured in dollars and cents or kudos and should instead be valued for the intrinsic qualities it brings to people’s lives. Only then can we create a workplace that truly works for everyone. We have to get past the cynical view that says work is only about making money and advancing in your career. Because the truth is that our careers don’t just affect our income – they also shape who we are. So the next time you’re struggling to stay motivated, remember that the benefits you seek from your work will change as you move through different life stages.