HomearticleWhat to do about “Passion Tax”?

What to do about “Passion Tax”?





“If you love your job, people are more willing to ask you to do extra work unpaid—even if it's demeaning and not part of your role—and to sacrifice sleep and family time.

Managers: it's time to stop taking advantage of enthusiasm. End the passion tax.” - Adam Grant

This call out came off the back of a research paper from Duke University that suggests that, in a myriad of ways, organisations and leaders exploit the enthusiasm people bring to their roles.

It’s an interesting twist on the more traditional notions of ‘follow your bliss’ or ‘do what you love, and love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life’. The latter I personally have found to be unequivocally untrue. 

The twist turns multiple ways. I think of how many of my coaching clients over the years have been stuck between the rock and a hard place of so-called work/life balance, and caring about important work.

“I don’t want to say no to any of it, it’s all important to me”

This twist has shown up again in many workshops I have facilitated linking values, meaning and purpose to work, building engagement and connection. ‘Helping’ participants to love their jobs.

And then there’s me. The only reason I’m writing this at 4pm instead of 6am is that I couldn’t handle the hypocrisy of sitting down to write on this topic while it was still dark, in that hour of bliss before my family wakes up and the inevitable micromanaging about socks and teeth and lunchboxes beings.  This is my hour, when I would usually sit and meditate, or, as often as not, open my laptop and get through some of the things I didn't get done yesterday, in the hope there will be less things overflowing tomorrow.

I love my job. I love my team. I deeply dislike letting any of them down, holding them up, or being a bottleneck in their overflowing to-do list. And so sometimes a 6am inbox clearance, or a Sunday afternoon planning session is a choice I make, because I love my job.

Now, no one is taking advantage of me, or exploiting my passion, but I could make an anecdotal argument based on 15 years of experience that organisational systems may enable, or at the very least, won’t interrupt a ‘passion tax’. I mean, this is what the system rewards. 

Over and above, exceeds expectations, exceptional, superstars, shooting the lights out, out-performance, over-performance… all of this is basically organisationally condoned language for doing ‘more than you need to’ which conveniently, doesn’t have an end point. Does anyone ever get told, ‘Hey, slow down, you’re delivering over and above!’? No, they get bonuses, and burnout, or (and I think this might be smarter) they participate in something akin to a ‘great resignation’. 

There are those out there (some I know and love) who would think a 6am email session was two hours too late, and for peak productivity, starting anytime after four is wasting the day. There are others, myself included, who would love to be able to completely switch off at the end of the day, or week, but care so much about their job that switching off seems misaligned

I do wonder how systemically and culturally organisations could throw a spanner in the works of this. The idea that’s gaining traction is the fully paid four-day-work-week and that might be a step in the right direction. And new ‘Right to Disconnect’ laws making it illegal to contact employees outside of work hours are a move in the right direction.

I remember, back in the day, a CEO addressing a new intake of graduates and telling them that if you want to succeed, you need to forget about work-life balance. I remember thinking it had never been clearer to me that I didn’t want to be a CEO.  But I also remember how many of those grads worked nights and weekends - first in, last out - to prove they were engaged. Passionate. Serious. Committed. 

In some ways, the pandemic has disrupted the presentee-ism which was still hanging around from those olden days when we were expected to turn up in the office five days a week. Without the inconvenience of a commute, it’s become easier to just ‘spend half an hour doing work so I’m ready for Monday/that strategy meeting/the one on one with my leader’ and if any of you are like me, the vortex is strong, and half an hour easily turns into more than an hour. 

As a coach, I often feel like a disruptor, disrupting the never-ending, unrelenting influx of demands and objectives with an hour of reflection and insight. As a facilitator, I often feel like a  disruptor of the  ‘fast is best’  and ‘more is better;’ and ‘growth at all costs’ messaging, delivering instead a slowed down and highly connected conversation. I wonder how, as a collection of coaches, leaders, facilitators, we could influence a systemic disruption that puts the brakes on this principle that if you love what you do, it isn’t work.

Because whether or not you have a direct leader who is exploiting your passion, if the system rewards ‘above and beyond’, the result is the same. The ones who love their jobs become burnt out and leave, and their passion leaves with them.

Charity Becker is an IECL coach and coach trainer and is passionate about supporting organisations and leaders to be the best they can (not so passionate that she works weekends. Ok, well, sometimes, but, nobody’s perfect).