Working With Passion

work with passion steve jobs

Hmmm… love… passion… Happy Valentine’s Day!

Now back to work.

Is there really such a thing as loving your work/working with passion? Yes.

What does it mean, to work with passion? I don’t have a good definition, but you know when you’ve got it.

And it certainly isn’t what ManagementSpeak calls “engagement.”

work with passion

Google “work engagement,” and you get a truly stunning number and variety of results, many of which are monotonously unoriginal and insultingly obvious, and some of which are just plain scary. Consider this article from “OSH WIKI,” sponsored by the EU version of OSHA[1]:

“Work engagement is defined as positive behaviour or a positive state of mind at work that leads to positive work-related outcomes. Employees with high levels of work engagement are energetic and dedicated to their work and immersed to their work.”

We’ll ignore the redundancy and wayward preposition for a moment and notice all the strong adjectives:  positive, energetic, dedicated, immersed. No issues there. Wikipedia adds a few more:

“Work engagement is the ‘harnessing of organization member’s selves to their work roles: in engagement, people employ and express themselves physically, cognitively, emotionally and mentally during role performances. Three aspects of work motivation are cognitive, emotional and physical engagement.’”[2]

Okay, got it:  when you’re engaged at work, you’re “physically, cognitively, emotionally and mentally” all there. Hard to argue with that. But then you also need to be “harnessed” to your “work role,” with the ultimate objectives of “role performance” and “work-related outcomes.”

Um, no thanks. I’m pretty sure I’m busy that night. The robots can handle it while I’m out.

Thus far, we only have descriptions of what it’s like when you are engaged.  But how do you get there in the first place? That would seem to be where “passion” comes in. But where does that come from? Maybe we’ll find some clues in an article with a catchy title:  Is Your Colleague A Zombie Worker?

“They walk among us, dead-eyed, with heavy tread. They are the colleague sagging at the coffee machine, the project manager staring out of the window. Meet the zombie workforce: an army of employees who’re failing to find inspiration at work.

“There are more of these ‘working dead’ than you might imagine. According to a recent study by Aon Hewitt, less than one-quarter of the world’s employees are classified as ‘highly’ engaged in their jobs, while only 39% admit to being ‘moderately’ so.

“This leaves an awful lot of the 5 million people Aon surveyed ‘unengaged’, which the more gruesome-minded of us might take to mean ‘haunting office corridors like reanimated corpses’ where once they might have been valuable staff members, full of life and great ideas.”

We all know people like that. We might be that ourselves:  according to the research, look left and look right, and two of you don’t have a pulse. The working dead can’t find the “inspiration at work” they need. Hence no passion.

How do we wake the dead?

I met the world of working dead lawyers right after the Great Recession of 2007-2008. In a stroke of exquisitely bad timing, I left my law practice to start a new venture at the start of 2007. The project bombed, and I was at loose ends. I attended a bar association career change/job search meeting where we did one of those speed-dating things where you meet everybody. It was an eye-opener. Here were all these amazing people — bright, personable, articulate, with wide interests and a desire to serve — but they didn’t see themselves that way. Instead, they saw themselves as victims, helpless, hopeless.

I raced home and sketched out a workshop to help them discover who they really were. I’d never done a workshop like that before, but the ideas poured in, and I wrote them down in a white heat. A couple hours later, I fired off a proposal to the bar association. Weeks later I got an email:  “How’d you like to do your program over lunch next Tuesday? We’ll provide the pizza.” They put a blurb in a monthly newsletter, and 40 people showed up. I’ll never forget standing in front and looking into 40 pairs of empty eyes. The lights were on but nobody was home — or in some cases, the lights weren’t even on, and apparently hadn’t been for a long time.

The workshop morphed into a travelling Continuing Legal Education road show. The promoter called it “Beyond Burnout:  Find Your Passion in the Law,” but then quickly added “Or Out of the Law.” Best intentions aside, most attendees wanted out. Of the hundreds of heartfelt evaluations I collected, the following was by far in the minority:

“I knew I was fairly happy in my career, but I took this CLE because it sounded more interesting than the traditional practice area CLE’s. In working through the exercises, I met some amazing people and realized just how truly blessed I am to be currently working in a job that I love. This workshop got me excited to build my business to an even bigger level – it reignited the passion!”

“Reignited” meant the writer had the passion, and knew it. I said earlier you know it if you’ve got it. Next time, we’ll talk about what that feels like — kinda like falling in love, actually.

[1] In its defense, OSH is in the business of making sure workers are engaged at leaqst enough not tyo hurt themselves or others — a pretty low standard when it comes to passion. Here’s its mission:  “OSHwiki has been developed by EU-OSHA, to enable the sharing of occupational safety and health (OSH) knowledge, information and best practices, in order to support government, industry and employee organisations in ensuring safety and health at the workplace.”

[2] Quoting a 1990 Academy of Management Journal article.

The Anti-Motivation Strategy (Part 3): The Dark Side of Motivation

All those motivational articles and advice want you to keep pouring on the motivation: more speeches, more posters, more rah-rah, more carrot and stick. And that means putting the human brain and body under chronic stress, pouring on the cortisol, keeping the fight or flight response on red alert.

Employee-Motivation resized

We’ve been trying to find a sustainable approach to getting motivated and staying motivated. No luck thus far. To go further in our search, it’s time to face…

The Dark Side Of Motivation

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Let’s sample some more scientific research:

Motivation, Stress, Anxiety, And Cortisol Responses In Elite Paragliders The title pretty much tells you what you need to know:  it uses motivation, stress, and anxiety together. Hold that thought.

Salivary Cortisol Changes In Humans After Winning Or Losing A Dominance Contest Depend On Implicit Power Motivation I think that means rah-rah works for some people, but shuts others down.

What do these articles have in common besides their long scholarly titles? They both talk about cortisol, known as “the stress hormone.” Back to WikiUniversity for a primer:

“Stress is a physiological and psychological stimulus and response that presents itself in many different ways throughout the body. Stress or a stressor can be thought of as any stimulus that upsets the bodies [sic] natural balance or hoemeostasis [sic].

“Stress is defined as any situation that upsets homeostasis within the body and threatens ones [sic] emotional or physical wellbeing.

“The dominant modern perspective is that emotions recruit biological and psychological supporters to enable adaptive behaviours i.e. fighting, running or empathetic situations. The two hormones of Adrenaline (Epinepherine) and cortisol support the ‘fight-or-flight’ stress reactive system.”

Obviously this Wiki contributor was having a bad spellcheck and grammar day, but we get the point:  stress knocks us out of whack, from the inside out. We’re not just skipping down the happy motivation road anymore, we’re on the way to….

Cortisol, adrenaline, hormones, anxiety, fight or flight… oh my!

Lions and tigers and bears

Here’s the problem:  you need motivation to stay motivated.

That’s the bottom line of the Feed The Beast motivation strategy we looked at last time. All those motivational articles and advice want you to keep pouring on the motivation:  more speeches, more posters, more rah-rah, more carrot and stick. And that means putting the human brain and body under chronic stress, pouring on the cortisol, keeping the fight or flight response on red alert.

Not only is that lousy leadership and management, it’s lousy self-care, too. We’re not meant to live that way, and it certainly won’t empower us to perform at our best. The fight or flight response is supposed to be a quick fix — over and out when the threat has past. Chronic stress keeps the threat ever-present, which messes with mind and body, puts health at risk. Which is why…

All This Motivation Is Killing You

We’ll let the Mayo Clinic weigh in on this issue:

“Your body is hard-wired to react to stress in ways meant to protect you against threats from predators and other aggressors. Such threats are rare today, but that doesn’t mean that life is free of stress.

“On the contrary, you undoubtedly face multiple demands each day, such as shouldering a huge workload, making ends meet and taking care of your family. Your body treats these so-called minor hassles as threats. As a result you may feel as if you’re constantly under assault. But you can fight back. You don’t have to let stress control your life.

“When you encounter a perceived threat — a large dog barks at you during your morning walk, for instance — your hypothalamus, a tiny region at the base of your brain, sets off an alarm system in your body. Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, this system prompts your adrenal glands, located atop your kidneys, to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.

“Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances your brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.

“Cortisol also curbs functions that would be nonessential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with regions of your brain that control mood, motivation and fear.

“The body’s stress-response system is usually self-limiting. Once a perceived threat has passed, hormone levels return to normal. As adrenaline and cortisol levels drop, your heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline levels, and other systems resume their regular activities.

“But when stressors are always present and you constantly feel under attack, that fight-or-flight reaction stays turned on.

“The long-term activation of the stress-response system — and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones — can disrupt almost all your body’s processes. This puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive problems
  • Heart disease
  • Sleep problems
  • Weight gain
  • Memory and concentration impairment.”

Comparable medical research abounds. If you want more, here’s a short article on how chronic stress hurts us. And here’s another.

More next time