It's a common enough phrase. Most of us have uttered it ourselves a few times . . . if not regularly. But rarely do we contemplate what it really implies . . . and the visions, present and past, that it brings to our mind. Seldom do we ask what meaning there is in the phrase or what thoughts or feelings might be associated with such a deceptively simple descriptive comment. In my experience, this is a phrase that elicits a distinct internal response in nearly anyone who stops a moment to ponder it. It invites one to form an opinion, the implied question, "What is it like for that person to go to work?" But, not having the leisure however to explore everyman's experience, we supply our own context, projecting our expectations upon this unsuspecting target.
This subject, "being at work," however, is not one on which we have a lack of information. No, by contrast it is one that we have meticulously, methodically, daily gather data on for years (some of us for decades). Thus, internally we cannot create a vacuum, waiting for its fulfillment. No there is already a long established atmosphere --thus, subconsciously, we have filled the void, creating the world into which the explorer ventures.
Sometimes you can almost see it in the person's response. The phrase is uttered . . . then one can stand back, expectant, anticipating, and closely observe the reaction of the listener. Is it indifference, dark humor, sympathy, curiosity . . . whatever the response, often it mirrors, on further observation, the respondent's own thoughts and or feelings about being at work; and their experiences, recent or distant, with their workplaces good or bad. Don't believe me? Try it out. Monitor your own reactions. Or observe others, then question them about their work experiences past and present. See if you don't find it to be true.
Oh, and report back here, because research findings, confirming or denying the current theories, do little . . . if not shared with the rest of the class.
It's possible it's just me. Maybe I'm projecting my own experiences on what I believe with be your own discoveries. Perhaps I'm over-thinking this or just reacting irrationally or even emotionally to a quite uncomplicated and banal remark. But, then again . . .if I am, surely you'll excuse me, after all, I'm at work.