The Passion Puzzle at Work

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Do you feel passionate about your job? If you answered yes, then you’re abnormal, at least if you go by the numbers.

Bloomberg Businessweek’s Ira Sager reports on new research from Deloitte Consulting’s Center for the Edge indicating that “truly passionate U.S. employees” make up “a scant 11% of the workforce.”

Deloitte defines a passionate worker as one who hopes to have a lasting and increasing impact on a particular industry or function; actively seeks out challenges to rapidly improve performance; and looks for deep interactions with others and builds strong, trust-based relationships to gain new insight.

In other words, employee passion—at least as viewed by Deloitte—goes well beyond mere engagement. But to develop passion, it clearly requires something that Peter Drucker believed was absolutely essential: each individual worker taking responsibility for his or her own results and continued learning.

“We live in an age of unprecedented opportunity: If you’ve got ambition and smarts you can rise to the top of your chosen profession,” reads the introduction to one of Drucker’s most popular essays, “Managing Oneself.” “But with opportunity comes responsibility. Companies today aren’t managing their employees’ careers; knowledge workers must, effectively, be their own chief executive officers.”

In another passage, Drucker added: “It’s up to you . . . to make high demands on yourself by way of contribution to the work of the organization itself. To practice what I call preventative hygiene so as not to allow yourself to become bored. To build in challenges.”

And yet, for all this, Drucker also recognized that it wasn’t simply a matter of employees seizing responsibility. It’s up to their employers to provide the systems and processes and culture for them to be able to do so. Heavy-handed, top-down organizations—those that “rest on command authority,” in Drucker’s words—don’t create the right dynamics for passion.

Neither do paternalistic ones, no matter how well intentioned. “Management has large responsibilities for the worker which it cannot shirk,” Drucker wrote in Concept of the Corporation. “But the solution of the problem of function and status in the industrial system cannot be found in doing more for the worker, in giving him more social security . . . in looking after him better. It can only lie in giving him the responsibility and dignity of an adult.”