What Is Work?


In physics, work is the transfer of energy by exerting force over a displacement. It is equal to the product of the force and the distance, or more precisely, the formula W = F d. The SI unit for work is the joule, named after 19th-century English physicist James Prescott Joule. Other units of work include the newton meter, erg, foot-poundal, kilocalorie and litre-atmosphere. It is sometimes referred to as the “force-displacement path integral,” but it should not be confused with torque, which uses sine instead of cosine to accommodate direction (or for the mathematically inclined, the cross product).

The everyday meaning of the word “work” refers to time and effort spent trying to accomplish something. This can be seen in the work of an artist, a musician or a cook creating and perfecting their craft. It can also be applied to the work of a business or organization striving for success in a competitive marketplace. It can even be viewed in the daily routine of an individual working to earn money or achieve financial security for themselves and their families.

When asked about their satisfaction with their jobs, employees often cite the presence of several qualitative factors that they describe as “good” or “bad.” These can include a sense of belonging, trust, pride, camaraderie and other such intangible elements that may not be easily characterized by metrics or survey data. Companies like Great Place to Work, Lattice and Culture Amp attempt to capture these components by including questions on employee surveys about job satisfaction and how they perceive their company’s workplace environment.

Whether or not an individual enjoys their jobs has nothing to do with the quality of their jobs, but rather their ability to satisfy their six key ingredients:

For example, if a person works in an industry that they are passionate about and enjoys their coworkers, the pay they receive and their job’s social impact, but does not feel a strong sense of personal achievement, they will be less satisfied with their jobs than if they worked in a field that is uninteresting to them but had high pay and a positive community impact.

The work of a body is always transferred from its potential to its kinetic energy, and this is accomplished by the application of a force over a displacement. Since work transfers energy, the same units that are used for energy are also used to measure it. If a body experiences negative work, it will experience the loss of energy. For instance, lifting a weight from the ground to above one’s head does work, but carrying it over the same distance does no work. This is because lifting the weight changes its distance, while holding it does not.