What Is Work?


In physics, work is the amount of energy transferred from one object to another via a force and a displacement. It is a vector quantity with magnitude and direction, similar to momentum and acceleration, but differs from both in that it does not require the objects to be moving in the same direction for the force to do work on them. The SI unit of work is the joule, named after 19th-century English physicist James Prescott Joule; other units include the newton-metre, erg, kilocalorie, foot-pound, and therm. Work is a form of energy, and like other forms of energy (like heat, light, electrical, or potential energy), it can be converted between them.

People need to earn money to live, and for many, their job is the primary source of that income. A job can also provide a sense of stability and security when other areas of life are rocky or in transition, and the ability to complete meaningful tasks and projects can boost self-esteem and self-worth. It can even be a social activity where individuals get to interact with and learn from others in the workplace, as well as outside the workplace through work-related hobbies and interests.

However, if your identity and sense of self-worth revolve solely around your job, this can be a problem, especially in the event that your work collapses. A healthier manifestation of this is when your job provides the funds you need to do other things you enjoy, and you find ways to make the part of your job that does not feel that way (e.g., updating Excel spreadsheets or hopping on discovery calls) enjoyable as well.

As the future of work conversation shifts from fear and adversity (institutions versus individual workers) to hope and opportunity, organizations must be ready to support it by shifting workers from the mode of routine execution to that of creatively identifying and addressing unseen problems and opportunities. To do so, they will need to reconsider their management systems and work environments, workforce composition and skillsets, operational processes and practices, leadership and managerial capabilities, and employee engagement and compensation systems. These changes will not only create more value for internal and external customers, partners, and stakeholders, but also help workers be happier and more engaged in their day-to-day work. To do this, they must be able to cultivate the abilities of curiosity, imagination, creativity, intuition, and empathy that are required for redefining work. This is no easy task, and companies will need to be willing to invest the time, resources, and effort needed to succeed. The reward will be a happier, more engaged workforce that can better deliver on the future of work. And a stronger economy, for everyone.