Workplace

Is your work your ‘calling’? You could be prime for burnout

Business professors at the University of Washington and the University of Oxford researched a microcosm of workers in animal shelters, an industry that generally attracts people who care deeply about animals, cruelty prevention and social impact. They found that such callings often lead to extensive unpaid overtime and emotional chaos because of inadequate resources, heartbreak and sense of defeat.
Business professors at the University of Washington and the University of Oxford researched a microcosm of workers in animal shelters, an industry that generally attracts people who care deeply about animals, cruelty prevention and social impact. They found that such callings often lead to extensive unpaid overtime and emotional chaos because of inadequate resources, heartbreak and sense of defeat.

Do what you love. Find your calling. Pursue your dream.

How many times have you read or heard someone say: “It doesn’t feel like work because I love what I do,” or “I’d do this for free,” or “I’m absolutely called to do this.”

They’re unbelievable statements to those who view their jobs as drudgery. They also could be dangerous to the speakers’ well-being.

A new study published in the Academy of Management Journal says workers who feel called to their jobs because of intense passion or sense of moral purpose are more likely to experience burnout, possibly with damage to their health. And they’re more likely to leave their jobs than workers who take a more practical approach to employment.

Business professors at the University of Washington and the University of Oxford researched a microcosm of workers in animal shelters, an industry that generally attracts people who care deeply about animals, cruelty prevention and social impact.

Kira Schabram and Sally Maitlis found that such callings often lead to extensive unpaid overtime and emotional chaos because of inadequate resources, heartbreak and sense of defeat.

In the animal shelter profession, workers who care deeply about animals often ended up leaving to find less emotionally painful work in something like animal grooming or pet training. Or, if they couldn’t bring hoped-for change to the facility or industry, they often left the animal world to focus on social change through other professions.

“None of those we studied had a moderate experience of their calling,” the professors wrote in the April/May issue of the peer-reviewed journal. “They either followed a practice path that produced learning and growth or one of the two other paths that generated intense negative emotions and culminated in burnout and exit from the occupation.”

There’s the management challenge in workplaces that employ “called” people. Managers need to help these individuals temper their passion and “deal constructively with challenges inherent in their work,” the professors wrote.

Managers should be alert to the overwhelming sense of defeat or emotional toll that the job exacts from such passionate employees. Such workers need encouragement and reminders of the little victories along the way. And they need realistic information about the challenges inherent in the job.

It seems perverse compared to the “do what you love” advice, but the professors said their study found that “when it comes to callings, less self seems to bring more realization.”

In other words, if you’re pursuing a job because of a passion, because you believe it makes you a whole person or you can save the world, you may need to put on the brakes. You may need help to objectively evaluate the job.

You may need to remember that the alternative is early burnout. And then where will you be with your calling?

Diane Stafford: dstafford@kcstar.com 816-234-4359, @kcstarstafford

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