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Passionate workers tend to be exploited

Study finds irritating legitimization of poor treatment





To love one´s job and to burn for it with passion is not only advantageous: you are, if you don´t pay attention, going to be exploited – by superiors, by business partners, by peers and co-workers. „You like it anyway“ is pretty often the explanation for not paying at all or too little, for making a mess of people´s work-life-balance and for assigning them tasks which have nothing to do with their regular work.

These are at least the results of a new study conducted by Oklahoma University in collaboration with Duke/SC. In a project which started five years ago and involved more than 2.400 participants the researchers identified with the help of eight different scenarios a new sort of modern exploitation: to take advantage of people who specifically display joy and engagement in the way they earn for their living. In doing so only weak resistance is to be expected: 1. Highly motivated employees or freelancers are actually poor in denying when they should do more for less money and 2. The environment does not describe this exploitation as such, but as legitimate.

The academics conclude: „We are not at all anti-passion, but who then brings more than he/she gets, should do this voluntarily and not pushed by the system.“

Understanding contemporary forms of exploitation: Attributions of passion serve to legitimize poor treatment of workers“, Kim/Campbell/Shepherd/Kay, In: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology“, 118(1), 121-148, 2020.



From the practice:

Over decades leadership theories have predominantly preached one rule above all: to exert one´s job with passion makes one more successful than others. Or to put it even simpler: what you like to do, you do better.

Having this in mind the new study seems to be an important critique which was long overdue. This is why I sometimes have asked myself whether the often cult-like mantra of some of the big corporations – „Everybody here has to have fun at work“ – is nothing less than a hidden strategy to exploit personell easier and better.

Don´t focus on the big ones alone, though: this new sort of taking advantage of people pops up in various fields and levels, you may observe this with start ups, in arts and with us self-employed guys in particular.

So it is important for those of us who give work and hand out tasks to reflect regularly if we rip off people who are known for loving their job. And in the same way it is important for those of us, who go to work with joy and engagement and who have difficulties in marking off themselves to ask from the very beginning for an adequate compensation and to negotiate for a fair workload.

Please don´t get me wrong: I love my job and I recommend to all clients, to search unconditionally the source of their passion. But I am strictly against too much job – since life is offering so incredibly many more terrific options.


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