• Randy Sklar

Obsessive Passion... Or Burning out?

If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.

This is a lovely old saying that needs to be thrown straight into the trash. Even when someone is fortunate enough to have a job they truly love, that job is still work, which means they’re going to need a break from time to time. Unfortunately, employees who are passionate about their work are also most at risk for burnout.


The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies burnout as a syndrome “resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” The three symptoms of burnout, as defined by the WHO are:


1. Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion


2. Increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job


3. Reduced professional efficacy


Burnout can affect anyone in any industry, but a study published in the Journal of Personality found that individuals with “obsessive passion” for their work are the most likely to suffer from burnout. According to the study, this is because “obsessive passion produces conflict between work and other life activities because the person cannot let go of the work activity.” Individuals with purpose-driven work, such as executives, nonprofit employees, teachers or principals, nurses, and physicians, are the most likely to fall into the trap of obsessive passion.


To prevent burnout in the workplace, leaders must promote what the Journal of Personality study called “harmonious passion.” This mindset allows individuals to fully engage in the work they enjoy while also creating habits that prevent future conflict. Dr. Edward Ellison, co-CEO of The Permanente Federation, urged leaders to speak against our culture’s “always-on” mindset of working at all hours.


“If you are so inspired to do what you do, then you’re not necessarily good at setting boundaries,” says Dr. Ellison. “We need to teach people that setting boundaries is okay. It’s not selfish. It’s selfless. It allows you to be more effective at what you do, and to better [help] those you wish to serve.”


Leaders must also keep an eye on the well-being of their staff. Emphasize the importance of taking breaks and not working through lunch. Create a culture that does not shame employees for taking time off when they are unwell, mentally, or physically. Above all else, lead by example, and don’t let your passion become an obsession.


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