When it comes to deciding on a career path, sayings like “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” and “follow your passion” get thrown around frequently. While it certainly sounds good, it doesn’t appear to be practical. Studies show this advice may be oversimplifying, at best, and actively detrimental, at worse.
Harvard professor Jon Jachimowicz explains in the Harvard Business Review why people need to focus on purpose—not passion—when it comes to choosing a job. It’s a subtle distinction. Purposed defines what someone values and cares about deeply, whereas passion considers what someone finds fun, enjoyable, or easy to do.
Much of the problem lies in people’s assumptions about passion. Many people approach “finding a passion” as an instant-gratification discovery, but the more productive perspective is to view passion as something to be developed and fostered. Passion doesn’t lead to hard work; however, consistent hard work does lead to enjoyment and fulfillment.
Joy alone can also produce inflated career expectations. It’s not realistic to expect that work be fun all the time. Even in the most adventurous or exciting fields, tasks can be mundane, repetitive, and difficult. Jachimowicz discovered that employees who pursued what they enjoyed were more likely to leave their job just nine months later.
Purpose, however, makes a big difference. As it turns out, when employees find their jobs meaningful, their productivity increases. In Jachimowicz’s research, passion alone was only weakly related to an employee’s productivity. However, passion coupled with perseverance—putting in the hard work despite adversity—resulted in much stronger performance outcomes.
Professional Growth = Personal Growth
When employees clearly understand their purpose—what they value and how they want to make an impact—they have better mental and emotional health and feel motivated to work harder.
Many companies find, unfortunately, that passionate employees can become overconfident. These employees can’t take constructive criticism well and are less likely to grow in their field. Some feel as though they have nothing to learn and overestimate their abilities. Arrogance can be off-putting to colleagues and clients, having negative impacts on the workplace environment or performance results.
In other instances, colleagues sometimes take advantage of passionate workers by asking them to take on tasks outside of the scope of their job description. These workers may also feel pressure (either self-inflicted or from others) to sacrifice more time and energy than is healthy for work. Ultimately, that can lead to stress and burnout. It can also create disengagement and resentment, further worsening productivity.
Having a deeply-rooted purpose, instead, provides a motivating direction for workers. Employees become more open to learning new skills and refining current abilities. With a meaningful work agenda, they can approach obstacles with perseverance and an open mind, focus in on their goals, and perform better quality work.
Help Employees Discover Their Purpose
It can be difficult for someone to realize what they really value and find meaningful. Putting in the effort to help employees understand their purpose can have positive effects on an employee’s overall well-being and improve worker performance.
Companies have the opportunity to reframe unproductive assumptions about “following a passion” by presenting professional growth as an ongoing challenge. By offering resources to learn new skills, engage with experienced mentors, or even pursue a continuing education program, workers can foster a deeper appreciation for their career fields.
Wellness programs that prioritize social, mental, and emotional support can help as well. Establishing office get-togethers can lead to positive social interactions that make people more open to taking advice. Flexible hours and time off can also encourage workers to pursue hobbies they love alongside their careers.
The new year is an opportune time to help employees refine their professional and personal goals. To start 2020 off in the right direction, Wellable is launching a Purpose Challenge in January. It's a great way to provide support for employees that feel burnt out, stuck in a rut, or simply want more inspiration. Check out Wellable’s challenge library to learn more about the Purpose Challenge and other challenges Wellable offers.