What Is Work?

The word “work” suggests an activity involving effort or exertion – whether mental, physical, or both. It also conveys the idea of a purposeful endeavor resulting in remuneration or other reward. Work, labor, toil, travail, drudgery, grind, and the like, are all synonyms for laborious activities that can be both physically and mentally draining.

However, there’s another side to work that’s often overlooked. It’s the way that work can change us, in ways both big and small. It changes the people we interact with and how they see us, the disciplines we acquire, the knowledge we gain, the relationships we form, and even our beliefs. It also has the potential to rob us of our time, passions, and even our lives.

In physics, work is the transfer of energy from one body to another as the latter is displaced. The SI unit for work is the joule (J), which is defined as 1 N m / s2. The amount of work done on an object depends on both the magnitude F of the force and the magnitude d of the displacement, and on the cosine of the angle between them. If the force and the displacement are parallel to each other or perpendicular to each other, no work is done.

For example, when a crane lifts a 1200 g bag of sugar, it does work on the object by changing its position. In contrast, a weight held stationary does not do any work on it, regardless of its size. In addition, a ball swung around in a circle by a string will not do any work on it as long as the force is toward the center of the circle.

A more general definition of work is the definite integral power input to a system over its trajectory. This integral can be evaluated at any instant t, and it requires the velocity v of the point of application of the force to be known. Since the value of v changes with time, this integral is said to be path dependent.

Defining work as a way to cultivate questing and connecting dispositions rather than just completing routine tasks enables companies to unleash more of workers’ intrinsic motivation, making them act more like owners. However, it’s important to note that simply automating routine tasks, augmenting with technology, or adding employee suggestion boxes and 20 percent time won’t get you there. Redefining work requires shifting all of the company’s workforce from executing routine, tightly defined tasks to identifying and addressing unseen problems and opportunities. It requires cultivating the capacity for all employees to identify and address the needs of their customers and other stakeholders in a sustainable way, including frontline workers. It also requires imagining solutions that don’t yet exist, for needs that haven’t yet emerged. It takes a significant level of creativity and innovation that’s hard to replicate with automation alone.