The Passion Economy, Work Dissatisfaction and the Reimagining of Work
What is passion? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines passion in many ways. In terms of emotion, passion is “a strong emotion or feeling.” Passion can be felt for various things, whether about a book, a sport, or a fictional character. But what does it mean not only to feel passion but to be passionate or do something you are passionate about? Passion can also be defined as “a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object or concept” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). In this respect, passion does not only encompass an emotional feeling but also involves action. For example, someone passionate about make-up may do their make-up every day. Someone passionate about writing may practice writing in their spare time. But when people think about their passions, rarely do people think about what they do for work.
In a 2019 survey conducted by Toll-Free Forwarding, an American telecommunications firm, researchers found that out of 2,000 participants interviewed, less than a quarter of Americans felt that they had found their dream job at some point in their career, and only 10% of people currently held the position that they wished they had as a child. Furthermore, in a Harris Interactive survey on job satisfaction statistics, surveyors found that less than half of all Americans felt “satisfied or extremely satisfied with their jobs,” and only 20% of Americans felt passionate about what they did for work.
In short, most of us are neither happy with our work nor do we feel a calling for what we do. And the implications of this lack of passion for our work can affect our professional and personal lives. Dispassionate workers are more likely to be disengaged with their jobs and less likely to feel connected with the companies they work for. As of 2017, work dissatisfaction and its accompanying stress are estimated to cost the US economy over $30 billion annually due to “absenteeism, low productivity, staff turnover, workers’ compensation (lack thereof), medical insurance (lack thereof) and other stress-related expenses” (World Health Organization). In a 2019/2020 report conducted by the Health and Safety Executive, a UK government agency in charge of workplace regulations, encouragement, and research regarding workplace health and safety, it was found that over 800,000 working Brits reported having suffered from some form of work-related stress, depression or anxiety. In addition, a Labour Force Survey concluded that around 17.9 million working days were lost between 2019 and 2020 due to work-related mental health issues. And according to the same report, work-related mental illnesses have been on a steady increase since around 2014/2015. As a result, workplace dissatisfaction has been categorized as an “epidemic” costing us our happiness, health, and money.
But what is preventing us from feeling satisfied with our jobs? Many factors have contributed to the high level of dissatisfaction that many of us feel at work. Among the top reasons includes “low salaries, lack of opportunity for advancement and heavy workloads…” (Job Dissatisfaction Affects Health, Productivity). For example, low-wage workers often feel stressed when it comes to their ability to pay for their expenses, which can affect their ability to perform well at work. In addition, workers who feel stuck at work or feel there is little room for advancement in their career are less likely to be engaged with their work, and as a result, their productivity goes down. Heavy, unmanageable workloads can also overwhelm workers and reduce their ability to be productive in their roles. And many workers feel that on top of all of this, they are not valued by the companies they worked for, which makes it hard for them to appreciate the work they do.
When it comes to finding one’s dream job or pursuing one’s dream career in a field that one is passionate about, causes that can hold people back include complacency, fear of failure, and lack of education and finances. Many people are scared to pursue what they are genuinely passionate about, especially if doing so feels risky. Some will forgo their passions altogether if they think that it may cost them financially, and others don’t even know where to begin when it comes to making connections in the industry they are interested in or convincing potential employers of their fitness for a possible role. So, is it possible for more of us to find our dream jobs or get into an industry that we are passionate about? Some believe that the answer to the overwhelming unhappiness about work and career involves reimagining the idea of work itself.
Globalization and automation are quickly reshaping the way we must think about work. In July of 2020, Businesswire reported that in a study conducted by the global software company Ui Path it was estimated that about half of all businesses worldwide would increase their adoption of automated processes as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. And this adoption will likely continue long after the pandemic. Soon, we may no longer need human laborers to do repetitive tasks, as we can train robots and machines to do them in industries like foodservice and manufacturing. On the one hand, losing jobs to automation is terrifying, especially for those who rely on those jobs to make a living. But, on the other hand, automation of low-skilled, low-wage labor could create an opportunity for more investment in creating more satisfying work for those in low-wage jobs and feel there are few alternatives available.
The Passion Economy is an emerging idea that seeks to transform the way that we work. The premise of the passion economy is that workers are no longer a commodity. Instead, they are valued as people first, and their skills, uniqueness, and creativity are considered when it comes to their job or career. The idea of the passion economy first started to gain popularity in Silicon Valley, a tech hub nestled in Northern California. Silicon Valley is known for attracting tech entrepreneurs and housing many global tech giants, including Google. But the passion economy doesn’t just extend to those with connections to the tech industry. Instead, the idea of the passion economy encompasses all people’s ability to pursue a job or career they feel strongly about or one that allows them to thrive emotionally and financially. For many people, what kind of job they have isn’t the most crucial thing to them, but a job or career can help them pursue the things they are passionate about. The passion economy believes in creating work that people enjoy and work that supports people’s lives outside of work. For example, someone’s passion could be traveling. The passion economy would drive a career that involves traveling or allowing to piece remotely and with a flexible schedule.
The passion economy can help improve our personal and professional lives. Those who feel satisfied with their work are much more likely to succeed at the companies they work for. According to a study conducted by LinkedIn, employees who did not feel empowered, respected, and satisfied with their work only had a 35% chance of staying at their current positions. In addition, there is a link between workplace satisfaction and overall productivity. In a study conducted by the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom, economists at the university conducted several experiments on voluntary participants to test what methods would increase employee happiness and how that impacted their work productivity. They divided the participants into different groups and simulated a working scenario. They gave some of the participants food, watched funny clips, and gave others emotional support. Researchers found that the investment in the participants’ physical and emotional well-being raised overall employee happiness and increased productivity by about 12%. The findings of this study also seem to translate into real-world situations as well. Google saw a 37% increase in employee satisfaction thanks to investments in company lunches, exercise facilities, paid time off, and remote working options. On top of increased productivity, investments in employee happiness also foster creativity and collaboration. Employees who feel satisfied at work are more likely to participate and engage with their fellow employees.
To create a workplace that prioritizes the needs of one’s employees, one must invest in their professional and personal needs in proactive and supportive ways. Things like celebrating employees for their work on successful projects or sending out “thank you” emails to employees who closed a big sale can help boost employee morale. Transparency is also vital to fostering a work environment where all employees feel seen and heard. Companies should invest in diversity, as diversity can help foster openness and transparency and encourage innovation by bringing new voices into the fray. Low pay and lack of growth opportunities are the most significant factors contributing to employee dissatisfaction and high employee turnover rates. Employee turnover can cost a company over 50% of its annual budget. Investment in fair wages and training and acceleration programs can help employees get ahead, improve employee motivation, and increase overall loyalty to the company. The purpose of the passion economy is to foster a sense of ownership and enthusiasm in one’s work in ways that fulfill people both in and outside of work.
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