The Passion Puzzle

Posted on Sep 27, 2013 | 5 Comments

Do you feel passionate about your job? If you answered yes, then you’re abnormal, at least if you go by the numbers.

Bloomberg Businessweek’s Ira Sager reports on new research from Deloitte Consulting’s Center for the Edge indicating that “truly passionate U.S. employees” make up “a scant 11% of the workforce.”

Deloitte defines a passionate worker as one who hopes to have a lasting and increasing impact on a particular industry or function; actively seeks out challenges to rapidly improve performance; and looks for deep interactions with others and builds strong, trust-based relationships to gain new insight.

In other words, employee passion—at least as viewed by Deloitte—goes well beyond mere engagement. But to develop passion, it clearly requires something that Peter Drucker believed was absolutely essential: each individual worker taking responsibility for his or her own results and continued learning.

“We live in an age of unprecedented opportunity: If you’ve got ambition and smarts you can rise to the top of your chosen profession,” reads the introduction to one of Drucker’s most popular essays, “Managing Oneself.” “But with opportunity comes responsibility. Companies today aren’t managing their employees’ careers; knowledge workers must, effectively, be their own chief executive officers.”

In another passage, Drucker added: “It’s up to you . . . to make high demands on yourself by way of contribution to the work of the organization itself. To practice what I call preventative hygiene so as not to allow yourself to become bored. To build in challenges.”

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Image credit: Thejas Panarkandy

And yet, for all this, Drucker also recognized that it wasn’t simply a matter of employees seizing responsibility. It’s up to their employers to provide the systems and processes and culture for them to be able to do so. Heavy-handed, top-down organizations—those that “rest on command authority,” in Drucker’s words—don’t create the right dynamics for passion.

Neither do paternalistic ones, no matter how well intentioned. “Management has large responsibilities for the worker which it cannot shirk,” Drucker wrote in Concept of the Corporation. “But the solution of the problem of function and status in the industrial system cannot be found in doing more for the worker, in giving him more social security . . . in looking after him better. It can only lie in giving him the responsibility and dignity of an adult.”

Why aren’t workers more passionate? Is it because they don’t seize responsibility—or because their employers don’t provide them the chance to?

5 Comments

  1. LaDessa
    September 27, 2013

    I feel lucky my team is in the 11%. They are each experts and it is amazing to watch what they create for our community.

    Reply
  2. Mike Grayson
    September 28, 2013

    I believe the reason so many people are unhappy is because they are focused on the wrong thing – the job.

    I have a deep passion for what I do and I’ve done it for over 30 years. When I was 29, I decided that I was going to become one of the most knowledgeable people in the country when it came to integrating technology with management. I can clearly remember that day, where I was, the time of day and the decision.

    My focus and passion wasn’t on the job, it was on gaining knowledge and understanding. Now, I’m 62 and I’ve maintained that passion all of these years and have a reasonably good understanding of technology and management. I started my own company over 20 years ago, and have been rewarded financially and otherwise for my efforts, even being recognized internationally by my peers – and getting to know people from all over the world, including Presidential candidates. But I was never focused on a “job”. My quest was to learn and be the best that I could be.

    Today, I am still learning and excited about new technology that seems to pop up every day. I want use my knowledge and resources to help contribute to society. But it did not start with a job, it started with a desire to grow in understanding and knowledge. Jobs come and go, but knowledge is something that nobody can take from you – and it will open doors that you would never have thought possible.

    So my advice to young people is to stop focusing on the job and start focusing on becoming the best at what you want to do. Aim high.

    Reply
  3. Maverick 18
    September 28, 2013

    If you work in a slaughterhouse and you are passionate about your job, you need to be watched. The simple truth is that many, if not most workers have jobs that do not inspire passion. In the beginning, that’s why they called it “work.”

    Some of us are fortunate to have jobs where creativity and productivity are aligned so we can become passionate, achieve more and be rewarded or recognized. Even so, that only goes so far. As employees grow older and contemplate retirement they all come to realize that the only thing that counts is the wealth one has accumulated, and the pension and benefits that one will rely on post retirement. Any time along the way that employees realize that they are not getting to where they need to be, passion ceases.

    Perhaps nothing has done more to kill passion for job accomplishment than the commoditization of workers. How many thousands (or millions) of US workers have been laid off because un-passionate Asians are willing to work for subsistence wages and little or no benefits? How many skilled US workers have been laid off to capture the synergy forecasted as a result of mergers and acquisitions? The gap between top management and everyone else continues to grow wider. This week ‘s news focused on the latest round of CEO’s jumping ship with golden parachutes of $100M or more. Think about the absurdity of that and try to remain passionate about working in our economic system.

    Reply
  4. Dennis Knight
    September 29, 2013

    My personal experience aligns well with that of Mr. Grayson’s. I’ve been working in the same industry for 40 years. 30 of those years have been spent as an entrepreneur having owned 5 companies and have become recognized as an expert in my field. I’ve been an employee, employer and volunteer. I’ve held jobs from paper boy, janitor, yard man, cook, contractor, project manager to CEO and have employed over 1500 people during that time. It has been 40 wonderful years of continuos personal growth, learning and improvement that has resulted in many rich personal relationships with many other people. My personal philosophy has always been to learn as much as possible, every day, from my superiors, subordinates and coworkers, to do my best, and, most importantly, to help the other people around me to succeed at all times. To this day, I still purchase the best tools, read the latest books and subscribe to the latest software needed to do my job and try to push those tools to the limit and explore where they could go in the next 5 to 10 years. Simply put I am passionate and happy about what I do and always have been.

    As to Maverick 18′s comments I’d say that the slaughterhouse worker can absolutely be passionate and proud of their work and take satisfaction that it’s one of the most important jobs one could have if done well because, done well, they are protecting the health, safety and welfare of every consumer that purchases their company’s products, their coworkers, themselves and their families. As for our Asian friends and colleagues, or any other race or ethnicity for that matter, I propose they are no more or less passionate than most of us. We are all human beings inhabiting one planet with the same basic needs to provide for, protect and care for ourselves and our loved ones. Bear in mind that a subsistence wage in the US can be a king’s wages in many other countries and cultures. In fact, the disparity between a subsistence wage in the US and a subsistence wage in many developing countries is just as appalling as the analogy made to the difference between some CEO’s compensation and that of an average worker in the US.
    Henry David Thoreau said “the price of anything is the amount of life you have to exchange for it.”
    That holds for the sheet metal worker making $20/hr in the US barely making ends meet for his family and the child struggling each day in a developing country who rummages 10 hours a day through the garbage to find enough bottles to recycle to afford herself and her siblings just one meal a day. It’s pretty much relative.
    I say hooray for the 11%, the passionate, the proud who apparently have mastered the art of making chicken soup outta, well you know, and can be happy and find personal satisfaction and reward from doing almost any job well – no matter how negative that job may be viewed by some in our society. Every job worth doing is worth doing right and should afford the person doing it dignity, respect and a living wage (whatever that is).

    Reply
  5. Dennis Knight
    October 1, 2013

    Sorry for the double post . Noticed the end of my comments got truncated. Will be mor concise next time.

    That holds for the sheet metal worker making $20/hr in the US barely making ends meet for his family and the child struggling each day in a developing country who rummages 10 hours a day through the garbage to find enough bottles to recycle to afford herself and her siblings just one meal a day. It’s pretty much relative.
    I say hooray for the 11%, the passionate, the proud who apparently have mastered the art of making chicken soup outta, well you know, and can be happy and find personal satisfaction and reward from doing almost any job well – no matter how negative that job may be viewed by some in our society. Every job worth doing is worth doing right and should afford the person doing it dignity, respect and a living wage (whatever that is or wherever they may be).

    Reply

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