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Office romance is off

By Jim Bright

Jim Bright asks why being good at our jobs isn't enough any more.

Are you following your passion? What are you passionate about? If you cannot answer those questions with a coherent, well-crafted answer, it appears you have no place in the contemporary workplace. Even if you managed an answer other than "none of your business", it had better be vacuous: "people!", "maximising potential!", "customer service!", "getting results!". Woe betide you if you let rip with "snails!" (unless you are a chef); "train numbers" (unless you work for the railways) or "yo-yos" (unless you, well, you get the idea).

Why is it no longer enough to be skilled, good, enthusiastic, keen, diligent, efficient, reliable or merely interested in our work? Passion is defined as ardent love or affection; intense sexual love; or a strong affection or enthusiasm for an object or concept. It also refers to the suffering of Christ.

Presumably, this demand for us to be passionate about our work is a demand that we love it, or at least have affection for it. On second thoughts, there are probably a few folks out there who really do expect us to suffer almost to the point of death for our work.

As that great career counsellor Tina Turner once remarked, "What's love got to do with it?" One view has it that love comes in four varieties - affection, friendship, romance and unconditional.

Anyone admitting to being romantically involved with their job needs help. Though the valet of Rayner Goddard, Lord Chief Justice of England, claimed that his lordship would get an extreme erotic charge from sentencing people to hang ... again, I digress.

Unconditional? Well, usually that is regarded as an act of devotion. This seems a tad too strong for a job.

Affection is generally fondness borne of familiarity, our affection for children, for instance. If we have more affection for our jobs than our children, we are in a very odd place. Even if they are teens!

That leaves friendship. This seems a more promising basis for loving our jobs, but then again, it doesn't. There is something quite odd about the idea of being in love with a thing rather than a person.

We might have lots of great friends at work. Through familiarity, we might have great affection for some of them. Work romances are very common.

The common denominator here is people. The various forms of love are for people, not things.

It is absurd to seriously suggest we should be passionate about our jobs. This may seem an exercise in pedantry, except we are increasingly being encouraged, indeed, expected, to display "passion" for our work and to be able to articulate this aligned to the HR jargon of the day.

This emphasis on passion sets up unrealistic and unreasonable expectations of individuals. It encourages the view that unless your work feels like a romance, a friendship, love of a child or devotion, you are possibly in the wrong job, or there's something wrong with you.

Stuff and nonsense.

We need to remove this distorting and damaging hyperbole from our rhetoric about work and get real that work can be satisfying, challenging, frustrating, bedevilled, or boring, often all in the same day, but it needs to be done, and most of us need to do it to make a living.

It's great to do work you enjoy or are good at, but nobody should expect you to literally love it.

When people ask, I tell them I'm passionate about half past eight.

Jim Bright is professor of career education and development at ACU and a partner at Bright and Associates. Email opinion@ Follow @TheFactoryPod.

Published: 21 October 2012

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