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Love or hate your work, it’s up to you.
HUMAN RESOURCES

To be truly impactful at work, loving your job is secondary

The whole “passionate about work” attitude irks me; save your passion for the bedroom.

This is not to say that I’d rather be ridiculed for being a nerd who works too hard. In fact, personally I’m in a strange position of a certified programming nerd with a blog and code on GitHub, who nonetheless does it strictly for the money (I’d be a lawyer or an investment banker if I thought I could). I’m thus on both sides of this, kinda.

So, in today’s quest to change society through blogging, what am I asking society for, if neither passion nor scorn for work please me? Well, I’d rather society neither encourage nor discourage the love of work, and leave it to the individual’s discretion.

From a moral angle, I base my belief on the Biblical commandment, “Love thy neighbor,” which I think does not dovetail into “Love thy work” for a reason. From a practical angle, I think that one’s attitude to coworkers (also managers, customers, and other people) is a better predictor of productivity than one’s attitude to work.

People talk a lot about intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation—passion vs money—but I think they’re actually very similar, and the more important distinction is personal vs social motivation.

Why? Because whether I work for fun or for the money, it’s a means to my own personal end, which in itself precludes neither negligence nor fraud on my behalf. What makes you do the bits of work that are neither fun nor strictly necessary to get paid is that you don’t want to fail the people who need those tasks done.

Perhaps you disagree with my ideas on motivation. If so, here’s an idea on boundaries that I hope is uncontroversial: Telling me how I should feel about my job infringes on my boundaries—which is to say, it’s none of your business. If, however, I do a shoddy job and it becomes your problem, then I’m infringing on your boundaries, so you’re absolutely entitled to complain about it. Here again, requiring respect for coworkers is sensible, while requiring this or that attitude towards the work itself is not.

So:

  • Someone’s attitude toward work does not predict the quality of their work.
  • Inquiring reports and potential hires about their attitude towards work is a minor but unpleasant harassment.
  • A corporate culture of “We’re doing this thing together” beats both “We’re passionate to change the world by advancing the state of the art in blah blah” and “We’re laser-focused on fulfilling customers’ requirements on time and within budget.”

P.S. Which kind of culture do managers typically want? Often they’re schizophrenic on this. They want “passionate” workers, hoping that they’ll accept less money. On the other hand, the same manager often doesn’t care about the actual work in the worst way—he sucks at it, and not having to do it anymore is the biggest perk of being a manager to him. But what he cares about is deadlines, etc.—so he encourages a culture of shipping shit in the hope that it sorts itself out somehow. These are the people that the term “technical debt” was invented for—of course, nobody would be convinced by this pseudo-business-y term if they weren’t already sure of the underlying idea: “Shipping shit is bad.” Of course, a truly passionate worker is going to suffer mightily in the kind of culture created by the same manager who thinks he wanted this worker.

This post originally appeared on Yossi Kreinin’s blog. You can follow Yossi Kreinin on Twitter at @YossiKreinin.

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