Abstract This article addresses the social, cultural and gendered meanings of men’s work in early modern Britain. As has long been accepted for women, men’s work should be seen as multiple rather than single-occupational focused. Drawing on the diaries of three middle-rank tradesmen from the eighteenth century, the article considers the different forms that work took, and how words denoting labour such as ‘employment’, ‘work’ and ‘business’ were actually understood. Men had a broad definition of work that challenges distinctions between labour and leisure. These various forms of work had diverse benefits, challenging narrower economic understandings of ‘value’. Work was about more than making a living: it was a source of fulfilment, status and social identity. Work’s value and contribution to identity and status changed over the course of the lifecycle. It was carried out and understood in relation to others, especially men’s wives, rather than merely supporting notions of power and independence. By applying the insights drawn from studies of female work to men’s productive activities, the article reformulates historians’ understandings of the place of work in early modern men’s lives.