Can Hiring Passionate Employees Lead to Burnout?

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Between 2006 and 2017, the use of the word “passion” in job advertisements increased almost 10x, revealing an interesting fact about employers: You value passion in your employees. 

And there’s no doubt why. Passionate employees tend to be more enthusiastic and more committed to their jobs. They invest more time in their careers and enjoy the work they do.

But research suggests passionate employees may be more susceptible to burnout. And this may cause you to wonder if passion is as valuable a trait as it’s made out to be.

The plus side of passion 

Most people prefer to work jobs they are passionate about. In fact, Millennials tend to value passion over money when selecting where to work. However, only certain types of passion are productive in the workplace. 

Researchers have pinpointed two types of passion: one that’s productive and one that can be destructive. 

Harmonious passion—which is defined as passion that arises from the feelings of joy an activity elicits—is a productive and highly beneficial trait. 

Harmonious passion fosters psychological well-being, physical health, positive emotions, and work satisfaction. Harmonious passion is an enjoyable experience because it emerges when people love what they do, and it can fuel a healthy enthusiasm for one’s job. 

A Harvard study reveals that employees who are passionate about their work experience less emotional exhaustion at the end of the day. So those with harmonious passion are, on average, less affected by their workday than their less passionate coworkers. 

However, too much of a good thing—even passion—can be a bad thing, and not all types of passion are healthy and productive. 

Passion as a burnout risk factor

Obsessive passion—passion that becomes obsessive or out of control—is harmonious passion’s darker twin. 

People experiencing this type of passion struggle to regulate themselves and can become emotionally dependent on the activities they enjoy. Unlike harmonious passion, obsessive passion is unhealthy and can lead to poor focus, frustration, maladaptive behavior, and burnout. 

And while passion can prevent emotional exhaustion after work, that same Harvard study found that experiencing highly passionate days—especially those involving obsessive passion—can lead to emotional exhaustion the next day.

Other factors can increase the risk of passion burnout, such as the field a person works in.

Obsessive passion and burnout are more prevalent in purpose-driven work (that is, work you are passionate about). Caregiving and healthcare roles are often cited as examples of purpose-driven work with high burnout rates. 

Passionate employees are also more easily exploited, as discovered by research at Duke University. This study revealed that some employers think it’s acceptable to assign extra, unpaid, and more demeaning work to their most passionate employees, an added burden that can leave them feeling burnt out. 

Many factors can cause passionate burnout. As an employer, you should know the signs of burnout and how to manage burnout in your employees to foster a more positive and productive workplace. 

Recognizing and preventing burnout in passionate employees

Burnout—experienced at least sometimes by 63% of workers—comes with a variety of potential symptoms. 

Burnout can lead to:

  • An inability to concentrate
  • Decreased physical health
  • Irritability 
  • Exhaustion
  • Lowered productivity
  • Decreased work quality
  • An increase in workplace disputes

Fortunately, there are ways you can help your passionate employees regulate themselves to prevent burnout.

Employees who get more time off better retain their passion. Because of this, setting a “passion boundary” and encouraging work-life balance is a great way to help employees manage their passion. 

To do this, try to keep your employee’s workloads reasonable, promote mental health days, and encourage your employees to use their paid time off.

Other ways to reduce burnout in your workforce include: welcoming employee feedback, recognizing and celebrating your employees’ successes, and encouraging yourself and your employees to support each other as needed.

There are many benefits of hiring passionate employees, such as reduced employee turnover, increased productivity, and inspiration for your other workers. But being gung-ho has its drawbacks, especially when your body and mind need a rest. If you have passionate employees, keep an eye they don’t burn so hot they burn out. 


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