Defining Work: What Does It Mean To You?


September 3, 2013

workSeveral months ago I went though a life-altering experience.  I joined a group of eleven other business people on a weekend journey holed-up somewhere outside Omaha, Nebraska.  The participants were from widely varied backgrounds and positions.  Our only goal was to consider the question “What is work?”

The weekend brought moments of joy and laughter, also dissonance and turmoil.  It was in those moments that each of us grew and learned.  One take-away was the idea of the importance of defining several words that are important in my life:  work, family, truth, authenticity.

For the same reason that the time I spent thinking about my own definition of “work” was valuable, so is the time thinking about the other words.  The main thing I learned is that it is nearly impossible to find a definition that a group of people can truly agree upon.  This is not a concern however, it brings me great comfort.  Knowing that it’s possible to reach an age where I don’t feel compelled to agree with the group just for agreement’s sake is a wonderfully empowering feeling.

What is work?

Some of the major components considered were:

  • It has to be an activity you are paid to do
  • It is a place you go to perform a service or make a product
  • It is the effort a person puts forth in order to create something or achieve a goal
  • Doing something you are passionate about and that has value to you

So what is the definition of work to me?  It’s a mixture of all the points above.  It is the amount of discretionary effort I put forth in order to achieve an outcome.  It is more than a place I go where I am paid for the effort, that would be my definition of a job.  Work to me can be much more generic, such as the work you do around your house; cooking, cleaning, etc.

What does WORK mean to you?



One Comment

  • For me work is the second place where I can realize my life ambitions, the first is my family, of course. Work should be challenging and inspiring, but it shouldn’t bring only emotional satisfaction it should be paid well enough in order to realize your ambitions not tied to the workplace.

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A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.


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