Perhaps you wish you were more passionate about your work. Or that you had the kind of work you could at least imagine being passionate about. Something that made you jump out of bed in the morning, excited for a new day filled with punches and joy.
But psychologists distinguish between two types of work-related passions — and they both may not interest you, even if you’re more than a little fed up with your current role.
“Harmonious” professional passion refers to situations in which a person not only enjoys their work, but also has control over their relationship with it. People with a harmonious passion for work have often chosen their career because it is something that interests them and they derive great pleasure from the way they earn their living. Above all, the work does not interfere deeply with other important elements of their life.
But a person with an “obsessive” professional passion has little control over their relationship with their work. They consider their profession and related factors such as promotions and salary increases to be central to their lives.
Obsessive enthusiasts rarely completely disengage from their work, and even if they are very successful at what they do, it often comes with a sense of satisfaction. Such an approach can take over lives, and lead to burnoutwhen you are physically and emotionally exhaustedand feel helpless and trapped.
So how do you make sure you end up being filled with the right kind of passion? If you have an obsessive passion for the job, is it you or the job? Our research suggests it’s probably both.
To investigate the relationship between personality traits, work, and the type of passion people develop, we analyzed data from a psychology project that collected data and test scores from over 800 participants.
We measured some of their personality traits, called in psychology the “big five“: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, friendliness and neuroticism.
We also assessed their attitudes towards work using their degree of agreement or disagreement with a series of statements such as “My work is in harmony with other activities in my life” or “I difficulty in controlling my urge to work.
Finally, we categorized their jobs using a system which rates different types of work according to six descriptions: realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising and conventional. (You can use this online trial to get an idea of the type of work you might be looking for.)
Our results suggest that personality traits (especially neuroticism) interact with the work environment in complex ways and trigger different types of passion. In particular, people prone to neuroticism (mood swings, anxiety and irritability) are much more likely to develop an obsessive passion for work if they hold a job in the “enterprising” category. In general, these are careers that rely heavily on the power of persuasion and place great importance on reputation, power, and status.
For example, a person who agrees with statements such as “I get angry easily” or “I worry about different things at the same time” is much more vulnerable to burnout if they work as a lawyer, fundraiser or broker. But that same person is less likely to become obsessed with their job if they work as a dentist, engineer, nurse, surgeon, or social worker.
It is then important to determine what kind of passion you have for your work. Do you feel in control, do you like your successes? If the answer is no, or if there are other clues that your passion at work is of an obsessive type, then you may want to consider a change in management to avoid being at risk of burnout.
In the example above, this could mean trying to find a role that has less of an enterprising element; something more artistic or social, perhaps. Because while we can’t change our personalities, a job change can lead to a greater sense of satisfaction and control — and potentially more time to find our passion in the world outside of work.