What Is Work?


Work is the intentional activity that people perform to contribute towards the production of goods and services in a society. It can also be viewed as the activity that provides meaning and purpose in life.

For most of us, the work we do is the foundation of our identity. It’s where we earn our money, gain valuable skills, and build self-respect and a sense of belonging. It’s also where we spend a lot of our time and energy. If we are not satisfied with our work, it can impact other areas of our lives.

A reshaping of work is underway in many companies and communities. The goal is to enable workers to create more value, which they can then take home in their paychecks, and also to make the world a better place. Often, the new kinds of work will be less repetitive and more meaningful to the individual. They may also be more creative or collaborative. These new kinds of work require different skill sets, and may be more suited to individuals who are highly curious, imaginative, and intuitive.

Some examples of work include a horse pulling a plow through a field; a student pushing a cart down the aisle of a grocery store; an Olympian launching the shot; or a person lifting a weight above their head. For physics, however, to be considered work, there must be a force exerted and a displacement. A frustrated person pushing against a wall, exhausting themselves, is not doing any work because the wall does not move. Conversely, a book falling off of a table and onto the floor is doing work because the force (gravity) causes a displacement.

When you think about it, your job is an amazing thing. It has the potential to provide you with intellectual challenges, built-in friendships, a platform for your beliefs and values, and much more. It can also be a source of joy and fulfilment, or a source of pain and frustration. Despite these negative aspects, it is important to keep in mind that most of us are lucky to have a job that gives our lives meaning and provides us with an income.

As we shift our thinking about work, the change will require changes in how we manage, operate, and support our workforces. It will also require cultivating the capabilities of curiosity, imagination, creativity, intuition, and empathy to ensure that we are redefining work in ways that expand value for both customers and employees.

To do so, we will need to rethink our assumptions about how work is done, where it is done, and when it is done. We will need to rethink how we define work, what it means to do good work, and how we identify and reward workers who can do this kind of work well. Reskilling and redeploying workers to new tasks is not enough — they must be engaged in new work that is meaningful and enables them to thrive.