A recent Ask A Manager question got me thinking about the importance of passion at work. Allison’s reader asked if it was necessary to fake passion to get a job; if it was ever ok to not be all that enthusiastic about a potential gig. Allison responded that no, you don’t ever need to take passion, but if your potential employer does cause or faith-based work than passion is important.
It’s only natural that an environmental non-profit, for example, would want employees who really do care about the environment and want to make a difference in the world. And it’s obvious that a church would prefer to employ people who believe in its teachings and who can be a good example of them. Not everyone who works in the non-profit or faith sectors is passionate about their work but a hell of a lot of them are – not least because you have to be passionate to put up with the low pay and long hours that’s common in such work.
But what about employers outside of these fields that have a comparatively strong sense of mission?
Can Balance and Passion Coexist?
Every employer wants to you do more than just show up and fill out your timecard – to care about your job and doing it well – but not every employer demands that you live for the job. There are plenty of employers that are trying to build healthy company cultures that balance enthusiasm for the work with enthusiasm for life outside of work, even encouraging their workers to pursue outside interests and side hustles. These employers are confident that employees’ having passions beyond their product doesn’t take away from their quality of work. They know that having hobbies and families and outside interests actually improves the work, helping you see workplace problems in a new light and bring new experiences to the table.
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On the other hand, there are employers with so strong a sense of mission that everything outside of work seems like a threat. You know the type. Don’t want to put in overtime to catch up on reports? You just aren’t committed. A 120 hour week sounds unreasonable? You must want this project to fail. Even if you started out passionate about the job, over work saps your creativity and your ability to commit. This is passion tipped over into toxicity, a sense of mission so strong that it can’t admit anything else is important. And it’s what candidates fear, when they worry about the importance of displaying passion in interviews.
In the case of the Ask A Manager question I linked above, I find it difficult to believe that Allison’s reader has no passion for the work at all. Someone who genuinely doesn’t care wouldn’t even be worried about not loving the gig enough – they’d just fake it in the interview, through their probation, and then slowly let their performance decline into a comfortable cruising speed of mediocre. What her reader is worried about is fitting into the company culture, and finding an employer that believes in the same norms of work life balance as she does. In other words, she’s looking for an employer that understands passion the same way she does: as something that ebbs and flows.
All passion all the time is really just obsession, and while some entrepreneurs make that sound cool and aspirational, it’s not something anyone should demand from their employees. It’s ok to have off days or even off months, to be more excited by some projects than others, and to not always be a perfect employer brand ambassador. No employer can or indeed should expect 100% passion 100% of the time.