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Work passion

Over a 20-year period, Vallerand (2008) worked on the psychology of passion. Vallerand defined passion as a ‘strong inclination toward an activity that people like, find important and in which they invest their time and energy’ (p. 1). Over time people discover that some activities rather than others seem to satisfy their needs for competence, autonomy and relatedness. These thus become passionate, self-defining and identity-determining to which people devote time and energy. Passion has powerful affective outcomes and relates strongly to persistence in various activities.

Vallerand (2008) distinguished between healthy harmonious (HP) and unhealthy obsessive passion (OP). He suggests that HP is the autonomous internalization of an activity into identity when people freely accept the activity as important for them. It is done voluntarily, and not by compunction. HP for an activity is a significant but not overpowering part of identity and harmonizes with other aspects of a person’s life. On the other hand, the drivers of OP are essentially specific contingencies and include self-esteem, excitement or self-acceptance. People feel compelled to engage in certain activities because of these contingencies which then come to control them. OP has an addictive quality because it is perhaps the only source of important psychological rewards. In this sense, ‘workaholism’ is a sign of OP not HP.

The theory suggests that HP leads to more flexible task engagement, which in turn leads to more engagement through the process of absorption, concentration, flow and positive effect. OP, on the other hand, leads to more rigid and conflicted task performance, which reduces engagement. HP controls the activity; OP is controlled by it. The former promotes healthy adaptation, while the latter thwarts it.

The question is how organizations encourage HP rather than OP. The answer is to

provide employees with a healthy, flexible, and secure working environment, one where their opinion is valued, will create conditions that facilitate the development of harmonious passion.. .organizational support seems to foster an autonomous-supportive context that allows individuals to internalise the activity in their identity in an autonomous fashion. (Vallerand, 2008, p. 193)

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