[LI] Two meanings of “work” (3 items)

Three items posted to LinkedIn, calling attention to how the word “work” is used in two senses, often without apparent awareness of the difference or implications. In this, I’m arguing (again) that we need more clarity about what we do and don’t mean when speaking/writing of “work,” and that maybe that requires better elaborated terminology.

I Retired at 38. Here’s What I Didn’t Expect,” by Tanja Hester as told to Charlotte Cowles, The Cut, 5 March 2019 (posted March 2019)

Found this piece by Tanja Hester (and Charlotte Cowles) very interesting, not so much for the early #retirement part, but for the terrain it incidentally covers around the two senses of #work (the more narrow one of job or employment that dominates common usage, and the broader one that includes productive activity in general). This is especially evident in the discussion of what it means to be “retired.” IMO, it’s possible to work (and be excited about it) during retirement, but the power to choose what one does and how, and not base it on remuneration, is central. Our current vocabulary in this area seems deficient, with the term “work” being overworked, if you will, to the point where concepts are easily confounded.

Three Reasons Why People Don’t Volunteer, and What Can Be Done About It,” by Amy Yotopoulos, Stanford Center on Longevity, n.d. (posted March 2019)

An article entitled “Three Reasons Why People Don’t Volunteer, and What Can Be Done About It” has interesting examples of the term “work” being used in 2 different senses (screenshot has 4 examples): as job/employment (highlighted in purple) & as a productive, unpaid effort (highlighted in green).

This is actually fairly common, as we unconsciously shift frames of reference in writing & esp. in speaking. It is arguably also a problem as we discuss the “future of work” (larger sense!) and issues like volunteering, the impact of intelligent automation on jobs, etc.

So, suggesting here that in academic writing, professional documents, and journalism, more attention be given to how one uses the word #work and where synonyms or adjectives might make the thinking clearer.



How work kills us: A book excerpt and interview with Jeffrey Pfeffer of Stanford University, author of ‘Dying for a Paycheck’,” by K.N.C., The Economist, 18 July 2018 (posted July 2019)

In this interview, Jeffrey Pfeffer uses “work” in one of its common meanings: jobs. How employment kills us, in other words? One could easily entitle an entirely different article something like – How work rejuvenates us – meaning productive activities, perhaps unpaid, from which one derives meaning, energy, and even enjoyment.

All of which is another way to suggest more attention to how we think about “work” and to clarifying the meaning we assign to it in a particular context.

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