Your Most Passionate Employees May Not Be Your Top Performers

Winnie JiangOctober 22, 2021 (Harvard Business Review )

“If you do what you love,” the saying goes, “you’ll never have to work another day in your life.” Whether that’s true or not, there is good reason that finding your calling at work has become a sort of professional holy grail. People who work to achieve a sense of personal fulfillment and make the world a better place — or what I call calling-oriented employees — have been shown by research to experience stronger work and life satisfaction and feel more successful than those with a job orientation, meaning they work primarily for money. But are they objectively more successful in their careers? Do they receive higher pay and organizational status?

What little research that has been done on this question focuses on how having a calling orientation or a job orientation affects a person’s actual job performance. Those findings show that calling-oriented employees do tend to spend more time and effort at work; however, they can often be overly idealistic rather than effective, and they can be critical of organizational practices in ways that don’t lead to success. In other words, if you do what you love, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you do it well.

But in our recent research, Yuna Cho of the University of Hong Kong and I found evidence that calling-oriented employees nevertheless do actually tend to achieve higher pay and organizational status. So if they’re not necessarily doing a better job, why are these professionals more successful? Our research indicated that it’s because managers tend to be biased toward those with a calling orientation.

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