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The trap of loving work too much

Secondconfirm In the hazy and distant past, job seekers have interests or hobbies. These interests can be introspective: reading books is a perfectly acceptable way to spend your spare time. no longer. You might be asked today if you have a “personal passion project,” and your answer should sound as exhausting as possible. Go white water rafting, preferably with orphans. Help build highway intersections for endangered animals. If you must read it, at least in the original text.

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Passion is becoming a major factor in success in the workplace. A new study by Jon Jachimowicz and Hannah Weisman of Harvard Business School includes an analysis of 200 million job postings in the United States. It found that the number of people explicitly mentioning “passion” rose over time, from 2 percent in 2007 to 16 percent in 2019.

Career websites have some helpful advice on how to show enthusiasm for very ordinary pursuits. Here’s one site’s advice on how to talk to a prospective employer about putting things in the oven. “I love the process of researching new recipes and testing them out. I’ve been writing about my experiences in baking for the past three years…I’m very detail oriented and love the scientific side of baking. However, I’m also a very social I use baking as an opportunity to get together with friends and family.” Don’t say, “I really like cake.”

Passion for work also seems to be a great way to get ahead once you’re in an organization. Another paper by Mr Jachimowicz, with Ke Wang of the Harvard Kennedy School and Erica Bailey of Columbia Business School, found that employees who were perceived as more motivated than their peers received more positive feedback and more opportunities for promotion and training . Other studies have found that employees who cry at work are valued more if they attribute these emotional displays to being overly concerned.

On the face of it, passion fashion makes sense. Enthusiasm is certainly better than no enthusiasm for employees. Most workers want to do a job they love; most companies want an engaged and motivated workforce. For certain types of companies, the case for unrestricted energy is especially strong. There’s a reason startups don’t embrace the adoration of occasional interested founders.

But passion can also distort judgment. The obvious pitfall for companies is to reward commitment over capability. Just like that note-taking, detail-oriented baker might turn out the most disgusting puffs in the world, those super-zealous employees who volunteer to prepare everything might not be good at their jobs. The paper by Mr. Jachimowicz, Mr. Wang and Ms. Bailey finds that passion may indeed be blinding managers to reality: It finds that even when the performance of passionate employees declines, they are still more likely to be promoted than their quiet colleagues.

Employees are also at risk. Even when the commitment comes from the heart, there are different kinds of enthusiasm, some better than others. Psychologists distinguish between harmonious passion, which results from genuine enjoyment of an activity, and obsessive passion, a more compulsive behavior in which people feel they have no real control over themselves.

One obvious pitfall stands out. There are only so many ways to convey passion. He widened his eyes and nodded wildly: It’s too weird. Jumping, shouting and sweating: even weirder. On the other hand, working longer hours is a fairly easy way of showing that your commitment is beyond doubt.

Some evidence suggests that employers feel justified in taking advantage of this fact. A survey by academics at Duke University, the University of Oregon, and Oklahoma State University found that people think it’s more reasonable to ask enthusiastic employees than disengaged employees to do unpaid work and miss out on time they should be spending with their families. They are also more willing to let enthusiastic employees do completely unrelated tasks. It’s apparently believed that if you love your job, you’ll enjoy cleaning office toilets more than someone who isn’t so passionate about it.

It’s great to be passionate about what you do. But if you wake up at 4 a.m. for a meeting with Asia, are constantly working through the holidays, or your boss just handed you a bottle of bleach and a mop, you’re in a state of incomplete health.

Read more from Bartleby, our columnist on management and work:
The relationship between artificial intelligence and humans (February 2)
The Curse of the Corporate Headshot (January 26)
Why Blaming Doesn’t Help (January 19)

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