What Does it Mean to Be Good?

Work is one of the most common and important activities that humans engage in to sustain their lives. When done well, it adds to life’s overall satisfaction and happiness. It also gives meaning and purpose to our lives and connects us with the bigger picture, helping us feel that we belong and that we’re part of something that matters. When done poorly, however, it can feel demeaning, exhausting, and suffocating. There is no clear definition of “good work,” and it often looks different from person to person, company to company, region to region, and industry to industry. This article will explore what it means for work to be good, and how organizational leaders can foster a culture that supports employees’ unique needs.

Work, also referred to as labor, travail, toil, drudgery, or the grind, refers to activity involving great and strenuous effort, either of body or mind. Often, this type of work is repetitive or tedious and leads to feelings of stress, anxiety, and fatigue. It can be physical or intellectual and may involve many hours of intense concentration. Work can be rewarded or unrewarding, and it can have a positive or negative impact on health and mental wellbeing.

In physics, the scientific definition of work involves energy transfer. It requires a force and displacement (or motion over distance). The relative direction of the displacement to the force determines whether the work is positive, negative, or zero. For example, when a lawn mower is pushed over 25 meters of level ground, the amount of work accomplished by the force pushing it is equal to 75.0 N multiplied by 25 meters, or 1875 J, which is equivalent to about 2400 kJ of food energy.

Whether it’s an office job, a farm job, or a factory job, a good job is one that contributes to a sense of accomplishment and belonging in the employee’s life. It’s also a job that meets an individual’s personal goals and needs beyond the quantitative, such as feelings of pride, camaraderie, or trust. This can be difficult to quantify and measure, but tools like Great Place to Work, Lattice, Glint, and Culture Amp help employees share their experiences, offering a glimpse into the qualitative aspects of a good job.

Redefining work is more than just a nice-to-have; it’s an imperative to remain competitive and engage employees. By shifting the conversation to one that focuses on passion and meaning, organizations can ignite more worker passion and capture greater value for themselves and their stakeholders. In doing so, they can transform the workplace into a space that’s more hopeful and productive than ever before.