What Is Work?

Work is the act of exerting effort toward a goal, especially one that is challenging or demanding. It can be physical or mental, but it is always purposeful and intentional. In this sense, work can be a form of self-expression or a way to make a difference in the world.

For example, when a person takes on a difficult project, they are often doing work because they want to challenge themselves and prove that they can do it. Or, when someone spends time volunteering with a non-profit organization, they are doing work because they want to make a positive impact in the community. Work can also refer to a specific piece of artistic or literary creation such as a painting, poem, novel, or musical composition.

Another common use of the word is in reference to an occupation, trade, profession, or business. A job, career, or profession is an activity that a person engages in to earn their living, and it may be their sole source of income or one component of several streams of revenue. This type of work is sometimes referred to as the “breadwinning” or “money-making” occupation.

A third common meaning of work is the transfer of energy from one object to another, usually via motion. In physics, work is defined as the increase in an object’s mechanical or internal energy caused by the application of force over a displacement. This can be expressed mathematically as the product of the force strength F and the distance d (or, more generally, the magnitude of the displacement vector): W = Fd cos th. The SI unit for work and energy is the joule (joule per kilogram-second).

An important point about work is that it only transfers energy when there is some form of motion. Thus, holding a heavy briefcase stationary does not do any work because there is no motion of the object. On the other hand, if you throw a ball upwards, it does negative work because it loses some of its kinetic energy as it falls.

The key to redefining work is not simply reskilling employees for new tasks or giving them access to technology that can automate routine tasks, which only shifts work to a different part of an organization. Redefining work is about cultivating and drawing on intrinsic motivation in people to undertake work for fundamentally different purposes.

A future of work that delivers sustainable value for workers and customers requires that we redefine work by focusing on the unseen. This means identifying and solving problems/opportunities that aren’t currently visible to managers, and it requires a focus on people who are passionate about learning, connecting, and making an impact on the world around them. The emergence of this work will require a transformation in the way that organizations and individuals identify and solve problems/opportunities. For this to be possible, the identification and solutions of these “unseen” problems/opportunities must become a central part of a company’s work culture.