NC State professors explore role of passion in making career choices

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — More people are re-evaluating their careers and looking for new jobs during the pandemic. What role should passion play in those decisions?

Two researchers from North Carolina State’s Poole College of Management say it’s not quite as simple a question as you might think.

“The blanket advice that it’s intuitively appealing and common for people to say, ‘Oh, just find your passion, and you’ll know, you’ll love it,’” N.C. State professor of entrepreneurship Jeffrey Pollack said. “But the story … is more complicated than that.”

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They and two other researchers looked at 106 studies to get a clearer picture of three types of work-related passion — how a job aligns with other priorities and values, and how specific roles fuel it, along with an overall sense of positive feelings.

Not surprisingly, they found each type correlating with positive outcomes for both employees and their employers. But they also found an obsessive passion, while it can lead to burnout, isn’t always a negative and can result in a stronger commitment or identity.

“There’s the general opinion in the literature and in the lay public that being obsessed about something is really bad, and you don’t want it,” Pollack said. “Our research didn’t really bear that out as much as we might have thought that it would.”

The pandemic has many people rethinking their careers, fueling what’s being called the “Great Resignation,” and the significance of what they do for a living is one of the factors they’re weighing.

Professor of leadership Brad Kirkman pointed to a 2018 survey that underscored the importance to employees of doing meaningful work, saying 9 of 10 respondents would take a pay cut and people on average would give up 23 percent of their future earnings to make that happen.

“So the one takeaway I would tell companies, organizations, people working in organizations, is if meaningfulness is such a big part of what motivates people and drives them in today’s economy, today’s work, you’ve got to figure out a way to take every single job someone does and say, ‘How do we create more meaning for you in this role?’” Kirkman said. “Not every single thing you’re going to do in your job is going to be meaningful. That’s true of all jobs. But how do we bring out the most meaningfulness we can in your current role?”

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