What Does it Mean to Do Work?

The word “work” has many shades of meaning, from the physical effort you put into climbing a mountain to the intellectual and emotional effort you spend analyzing a business problem. It can also refer to your job, a specific task, or even a set of goals. Regardless of how you use it, the most important thing about work is that it has to be done. But what does it actually mean to do work? We spoke with a handful of experts to learn what it means to perform work well.

For scientists, work is energy transferred from one object to another via the application of force along a displacement. In its simplest form, the amount of work done is equal to the product of the force strength and the distance traveled. In this way, the physics definition of work differs from its everyday usage. For example, an Olympian launching a shot-put is doing work, but a frustrated person pushing against a wall will not. This is because the force exerted on the wall must cause it to move in order for work to be done.

Another way to think of work is as a staircase: you can only climb to your goal one step at a time, and each step requires an improvement. In this sense, standard work is the first step to your goal, and a high-performing organization is like a flight of stairs with each new standard representing a higher level of performance.

This vision of work enables people to identify and solve unseen problems/opportunities, and it can be more empowering for employees than simply replacing manual tasks with automated ones or reskilling for different types of routine work. It can also shift the future of work conversation from one based on fear and adversity (institutions versus individuals) to one centered on hope and opportunity, where both institutions and individual workers win.

While there are some things about redefining work that can be accomplished through training, we believe that the biggest opportunity lies in cultivating a culture of questing and connecting dispositions. The companies that can do this will be able to unlock the full potential of their workforces, and will likely find that they are able to capture more value by continuously identifying and addressing unseen challenges/opportunities with a highly engaged, passionate and motivated workforce.

Are you ready to redefine your company’s work? Get started with our free guide. Download now! *Statistics based on the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s 2015 Survey of Intentional Learning.