What Is Work?

The word work relates to activity that requires effort or exertion, whether physical or mental. It can be the activity of a person or a machine, such as a robot. People work for a living, either by making or selling something, or by providing services such as cleaning, cooking, and transporting goods. In the past, people worked for their food, shelter, and clothing from the land, but now many work for money and other rewards. Work can be satisfying or boring, exciting or monotonous, rewarding or tedious.

When someone talks about working hard, they usually mean that they have been putting in a lot of effort to achieve a goal or to meet a need. If a person is described as working a crowd, it means that they are entertaining or persuading people to join their cause. The work that is done when a building is built is also considered to be work.

In the context of physics, work refers to a specific quantity that is the amount of energy that is transferred from one place to another through some force. It is calculated as the product of the force applied to an object and the distance over which that force causes movement, and it is measured in units of joule (J).

A number of factors determine how much work is done on an object. The first is the direction of the displacement. If the direction is parallel to the force, then no work is done. If the direction of the displacement is opposite to the force, then negative work is done. Finally, if the direction of the displacement is the same as the direction of the force, then positive work is done.

The amount of work done depends on the magnitude of the force and the magnitude of the displacement. A baseball player throwing a ball and its displacement over the field are examples of work being done. An athlete pushing a heavy box across the floor is another example of work being done.

Using a machine to do work can reduce the amount of force that is needed. A box mover, for example, can reduce the amount of work that needs to be done when moving boxes from one side of the room to the other. However, machines can’t decrease the total amount of work that is necessary to do a task.

Many people talk about the future of work, but few ask what that means for frontline workers. For workers, it should involve a sustained focus on identifying and solving unseen problems and opportunities, not just shifting routine tasks to new technology or reskilling employees to do a different type of repetitive task. These tactics only provide temporary relief from dreary routines and offer little potential for broader value creation for companies or customers. Only redefining work can unlock this potential. This requires cultivating and drawing on intrinsic human capabilities to undertake a fundamentally different kind of work that is more meaningful and rewarding for everyone involved.