Theory of Work

Zillions of books have been written on the subject of management all over the world since time immemorial but it is still a difficult rather a fruitless task to even get a clear and all-encompassing definition of ‘work’ from any of these books, particularly, from organizational management point of view..

‘What is Work?’… if you throw this, seemingly a simple but in fact a pretty challenging, question to stir imagination of the fresh students of management studies you would most likely see totally lost and confused faces in response. This is maybe because human mind is a self-exacting neuro-computer i.e., we grasp a lot of information using all our faculties but our mind has the ability to simplify things. For instance if our mind processes all the information we grasp from the external environment then it would take a life-time for a person to cross the road. We also gather information in small bits and sometimes we label a larger phenomenon to a small understanding like the story pluralists present about the blind men and the elephant..

We are all blind men trying to grasp and explain a larger phenomenon no doubt. This is the reason why defining meaning of a universal term like ‘work’ is considered no easy job. Also the person who makes us think about something by asking a question has already developed a reasonable understanding about that thing comparatively, whereas, we only start thinking about a thing when someone raises the question hence resulting in a disadvantage due to time lag. This is the reason why sometimes we could not reply adequately on time and only later we realize that we could have given a better answer.

Anyway, some students would still try to come up with a spontaneous answer, perhaps, those who have

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a clearer understanding of the concepts of physics and they also know how to relate topics learned in one classroom with those that are discussed in another classroom. These students would excitedly raise their hands and say, when allowed, that work is equal to the dot product (read multiplication or times) of force and displacement i.e., Work = Force ● Displacement or W = F ● D.

Right, this is the formula of mechanical work in physics but what does this mean in plain English? Actually, this means in plain English that ‘work is transfer of energy!’.

Overly simplified example of a golf player can crudely be presented, who gets a stationery golf ball moving by hitting the ball with the golf club i.e., energy is transmitted through the club to the ball. Hence we say that the club did work on the ball – cause & effect is only part of work as work can also be explained as a chain of events. But wait a minute, what about the human energy which the golfer exerted on the club? What about his inspiration to hit the ball, and the sense of direction in which the ball was hit. In this way we can exhaustively generalize the striking club to the ball as one of the causes of the movement of the entire universe. A Cause becomes an effect and an effect becomes a cause and so on, reflects only the limitation of the mind.

So again the definition falls short of key aspects. We understand the dimensions though i.e., the golfer’s need to play golf or the purpose of playing the game, identification of the right direction, ascertaining the amount of energy; power or effort (Force) required to make the ball cover the desired distance (displacement); execution and post execution evaluation etc.

Some people would assume that ‘work’ is a relative term, as, if you ask an employer ‘what work is? Or as to how he defines work’ in reply to which he would probably say that justifying your existence in the organization is work. A philosopher would say that realizing your dreams is work and a health conscious senior citizen would say morning walk in the park is work.

If we examine the definitions and explanations given at about the

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‘work’ we would easily say that it is really difficult to define ‘work’ in a particular way.

It is not easy for the organizational theorist either to define work, as to cover only one aspect, requires a great deal of efforts. For a hint, what is the role of human spirit; soul; inspiration; motivation; morale; training; education; organizational culture & climate; work environment; normative references; geo-political & legal environment; purpose of the organization and resources etc., in affecting work. Defining work as a function of time and resources; or for that matter what triggers work? What makes work possible? What is the relationship between awareness or concern and work? How to measure work? How to distribute work? How to assign work? How to evaluate work? How to compensate for work? These are all questions which have been answered in one way or another and these answers can be compiled together for the purpose of conveying right meanings and developing better understanding.

Someone once said that ‘Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.’ So we need to start ‘working’ on the theory of work. If during the 19th century we saw rise of the ‘productivity-focus’ and during 20th century there was an increasing concern for ‘quality’ then 21st century should be dedicated towards understanding ‘work’. Hopefully we will see a comprehensive research work from a seasoned researcher soon on the theory of work.