What Is Work?


Work is a term used in general language to describe any activity that requires physical or mental effort. It may be a physical activity such as lifting or dragging something, or an intellectual activity such as studying or writing. The word may also be used to refer to an activity that is remunerative such as earning income or performing a job.

In physics, work is the scalar product of a force and the displacement caused by that force. Though both are vector quantities, work has no direction because a scalar product (or dot product) in vector mathematics has no direction.

A constant force, such as gravity, does not do any work because the force is perpendicular to the displacement. However, a force that is parallel to the displacement does do some work because the work of the tangential component of the force along the path of the object is the same as the line integral of the scalar tangential component of the force over that path.

When an object is thrown horizontally, the work done by the gravitational force is positive and is equal to the weight of the object multiplied by the distance to the ground. When the object is thrown upwards, the work done by the gravitational forces on the object is negative and is equal to the weight of the object minus the distance to the ground.

The units for work are the same as those for energy, such as joule (newton-metre); erg (dyne-centimetre); and foot-pound. One foot-pound is equal to 1.35581795 joules.

Using machines to make work easier

Machines can be used to make work easier by changing the size, distance, or direction of a force that is required to do the task. For example, a dolly can make it easier to move boxes from one place to another by reducing the force needed to push them.

Some machines can do some work that would otherwise require a lot of physical labor, such as spinning a broom. This does not decrease the total amount of work that must be done to complete the task, but it does make the task more efficient and effective by reducing the physical labor.

Redefining Work

The essence of redefining work is to shift all workers’ time and attention away from executing routine, tightly defined tasks to identifying and addressing unseen problems or opportunities that could create value for the organization. This type of work includes the identification of strategic opportunities, problem-solving and solution development, as well as implementation.

If a body is moving in a circular way, it does not do any work. This is because the cosine of 90deg is zero. If a body is moving at a constant speed in a frictionless ideal centrifuge, it does not do any work either.

Whether it’s in a laboratory or in the workplace, redefining work can mean shifting all of our efforts from the narrow confines of the routine tasks and processes that we perform to the uncharted territory of identifying and solving new challenges and opportunities. This can be accomplished through a combination of automation and technology as well as reskilling or leveling up our workers.