Work and power from a physical point of view

"Great performance", "super work", questioned with some physics

Employees are honored, praised, receive bonuses, a wage supplement, certificates or fuel vouchers, so far so good, at least an attempt at appreciation on the part of management and for all those who receive something perhaps actually a recognition?

But what is actually being honored here? The willingness to work more than the agreed working hours for the company? To have completed an arduous task? To have quickly delivered some kind of result for an order? To have done basically a "good" job? Or simply being a "deserving employee"? These questions could be continued endlessly, but this does not necessarily increase transparency. Is "performance" or "work" really rewarded here?

The terms "performance" and "work" that we use in everyday life are interpreted in many different ways, are not very clear-cut and are often used in opposition to the physical terms - by employees and managers alike!

Let's start with the term "power". "Power as a physical quantity refers to the energy converted in a period of time relative to that period of time. (.....). The power P is the quotient of the work done and the time required to do it (also energy supplied by time required):"

Power = work performed/time, or energy expended/time.
(cf. Wikipedia term "power (physical)" 18.2.21)

So translated and simplified, performance = work per time. In our day-to-day business, however, we quite often encounter a different interpretation of "performance", namely that of

Work times time, so the "performance" as a product of work and time!?

How do I arrive at this assumption? If we simply look at everyday life in our companies, we find the following:

• Working longer hours and overtime are usually seen as positive and often rewarded (performance = work times time)
• Those who work long hours are "hard-working" and those who leave after 8 hours because they have already completed their workload are "lazy" and may even be labeled as "quitters".
• Those who work through a task quickly and finish early are usually not rewarded, but are simply assigned more tasks
• Speed in the processing of tasks is not normally measured, but their scope is.
• 30-40% of all work in companies is "blind work" and does not add value to the company (cf. articles on "waste" and lean management); if we had a "physical" concept of performance, this proportion would actually have to be close to zero.
• Rewards and recognition are predominantly based on the physically incorrect concept of performance "work times time".
• Overtime gets a "performance stamp" instead of its true opposite and instead of analyzing and fixing its causes

Everyone can certainly add many, further examples from their own everyday work here, where it becomes apparent that in practice we work with a non-physical concept of performance, which thus often sets priorities completely wrongly and in the long term leads to inefficient processes and dissatisfied employees.

Executives and corporate leaders are now called upon to straighten out the mindset toward "performance" and thus bring efficient work and process efficiency to the forefront.

Now to the term "work", which cannot be transferred quite so clearly from physics to our working world. What is "work"? What do we perceive as "work"? What, on the other hand, is seen as non-work? Is non-work the same as free time? Or is there also during work, non-work? Does "work" also equal "value creation" for the company?

"Work" in physics is the energy transferred to a body by forces. One says: "Work is done on the body". This happens when a force acts on it along a path. In this simplest case, the work done is calculated as the product of the force acting in the direction of the path with the distance traveled." (Wikipedia term work (physical) 2/18/21)

Transferring the whole thing to our everyday business life, I would translate it roughly like this: The force as use, as handling, as the occupation in the work process, the body for example as a process, as a task, etc. When translating the path into everyday working life, the corporate goals and their implementation, as well as other defined and lived processes and standards, come to mind, i.e. the aspect of "purposefulness".

However, according to mechanics, only the part of the force acting in the direction of the path is included in the product of the work. This is interesting for our company: Because if the "path" is unclear, unknown or not defined, e.g. by missing or non-transparent company goals and measures derived from them, then in the physical sense the effort of the employees is not work, but only the part that actually acts along the "path"!

Then how do we describe the rest? Force expended, but no work? Let's call it "employment" perhaps, but in any case not "work", because the "purposefulness of the path" would be missing here. Perhaps we would better say, "no work for the company", because the employee himself probably defines his own "paths", which, however, do not have to be in harmony with those of the company at all!

It would be easier to follow the view of Descartes, who defined work in the middle of the 17th century as a product of force and time. So simply to let the force work for a time, would be then already "work", also without purposefulness of the way. Apparently, this interpretation has prevailed more in our minds than today's definition of physical work.

In short, if you look at the concepts of performance and work a little more closely than the terms used in everyday life, I see a great need for clarification in terms of value creation and process efficiency, as well as purposefulness and transparency in corporate processes.

Satisfied employees receive appreciation, recognition of their work and transparency in the actions of their managers. But then please also make the metrics correspondingly transparent and clearly define the terms performance and work.

Lean Komplett, Bernd Kühme, Sindelsdorf Feb 2021

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