Work. A word people use a lot, which means different things. Maybe they are different. In worker-employer relations, work is the labor power–the work done per unit of time–that the laborer sells to the employer, who applies that work to getting something done. In thermodynamics, work is the amount of energy transferred from one system to another. In physics, work is the application of a force over a distance, transferring energy from one place to another, or one form to another. The word “work” comes from the PIE *werg-o-, suffixed form of root *werg- “to do.” Maybe they aren’t different. The common thread of these perspectives then might be work as doing something, setting something in motion. That seems straightforward. We work.
Work is measured in energy terms. Compensation is measured in energy terms. Common terms for measuring energy include metric joules, British Thermal Units, kilowatt-hours, and calories. This suggests that work is measured in the energy we bring to the labor we apply over a period of time, measured in some form of joules or calories. The word calorie comes from the Latin calor for heat. We give our calorie energy to our employer’s activity in exchange for money with which we pay for the calories that nourish us (food) or for the protection from excessive waste of our heat energy (shelter and clothing), which are both defined as our basic human needs.
It is nice when work is pleasant and engaging, though recent global surveys show that work is not pleasant for most people. Maybe part of the reason so many people around the world are disengaged at work is because of the way we define the very activity. Maybe the problem is that it is seen as work. The labor contract pays me for my work, my energy, my calories applied for a period of time. What if, instead, we saw that I was invited to contribute my creative expression towards a deeper shared purpose, integrating my head (thoughts), heart (passions and relationships), and hands (will, intention, and action). The unit of measure might then be the creative energy that flows through and from me–lumens–the light we see in the creativity of another’s expression. These recommended readings explore this other worldview, where creative people most express their talents in the form of energy when fully engaged in spaces of trust.
Expressing lumens energy in terms of calorie energy, to make it easier for business leaders to apply, management consultants Michael Mankins and Eric Garton find that, “talented people show up for work every day, but then something happens and they can’t get as much done as they believe they could or should. We think of that something as organizational drag, a collection of institutional factors that interfere with productivity yet somehow go unaddressed. Organizational drag slows things down, decreasing output and raising costs. Organizational drag saps energy and drains the human spirit…While the level varies, nearly every company we’ve studied loses a significant portion of its workforce’s productive capacity to drag” (p12).
Psychologist Jim Loehr and journalist Tony Schwartz suggest that, “The ultimate measure of our lives is not how much time we spend on the planet, but rather how much energy we invest in the time that we have…We have far more control over our energy than we ordinarily realize. The number of hours in a day is fixed, but the quantity and quality of energy available to us is not. It is our most precious resource. The more we take responsibility for the energy we bring to the world, the more empowered and productive we become…Human beings are complex energy systems, and full engagement is not simply one-dimensional…To be fully engaged, we must be physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focus and spiritually aligned with a purpose beyond our immediate self-interest” (pp4,5,9).
Neureconomist Paul J. Zak finds that, “Managing people as human resources to be exploited for maximum gain produced workplaces that confirmed economists’ claims that work provides disutility. Or, in the vernacular: Work is a drag. Except sometimes it wasn’t. There are organizations in which employees love what they do, where they are satisfied professionally and personally by their work…You have humans at work, not machines…It turns out that both trust and purpose activate regions of the brain that motivate cooperation with others, reinforcing behaviors essential to meeting organizational goals…Trust acts as an economic lubricant, reducing the frictions inherent in economic activity” (pp4,5, 10,11). “A Deloitte/Harris Poll shows there is a serious worldwide Purpose deficit. Sixty-eight percent of employees and 66 percent of executives said that their organizations do little to create a culture of Purpose” (p175).
While we would prefer to spend our time in great places to work than being disengaged in awful places to work, it seems that we would far prefer to fully engage our creativity in spaces of trust, great spaces to shine. Which do you prefer? It is a choice.