“Don’t buy the hype about following your passions”, is the advice from business writer and entrepreneur Penelope Trunk in her blog post The career passion myth and how it derails you.
Sonja Lyubomirsky talks about workplace engagement as a result of having control over one’s time and being able to make people feel good. Janitors, she finds, are happiest at work because they can control their workday and they can see immediately how they are helping people. Lawyers, by contrast, are the most universally unhappy, because they have little control over their hours and they are generally dealing with people who hate that they have to hire a lawyer, whatever the lawyer is doing.
Penelope has a good point and it’s something I encountered in my business with passionate staff – the most committed and dedicated are also those most prone to burn out and depression.
In the computer business, good technicians have a combination of two character types; the geek and the concierge.
The concierge attribute like to help people; this the key character trait for successful hospitality and customer service staff.
Geeks are the garage tinkerers; they enjoy being confronted with a technical issue and fixing it. Nothing makes them happier than being confronted with a tough problem and a successful resolution.
What I realised in watching computer techs over time is that both personality traits were driven down by the nature of the industry.
As Penelope points out in her article, lawyers aren’t happy because people don’t want to deal with them; this is common in the repair industries. Customers aren’t happy to see the tech and are suspicious that bills may be being padded out.
This was particularly true during the spyware epidemic of the early 2000s; often an effective fix involved backing up data, reformatting the system and then rebuilding it. Often the technician’s bill was more than the cost of buying a new computer.
Making matters worse was often the spyware infection was due to a family member or trusted employee visiting inappropriate websites. Having to explain to a staid matron that her husband was downloading megabytes of hard core pornography is a diplomatic skill in itself.
Naturally horny husband or frustrated staff member would be on those sites again shortly after the technician’s visit so the freshly cleaned computer would often be infected again and the customer would, understandably, be cranky at the tech for having another expensive call shortly after the first one.
Along with spyware, it’s common that technology products from big vendors don’t deliver on the flash marketing promises or aren’t as reliable as a customer has a right to expect.
This would become the technician’s problem again.
Many of these problems would be outside of the tech’s control which is devastating for one’s inner geek that takes pride in fixing problems.
All of these factors would eventually grind both the geeks and the concierges down and they would become demoralised over time.
For the most passionate this would manifest itself in burn out and often depression. In fact, I started feeling this myself and was one of the reasons I had to step away from the PC Rescue business.
Being passionate about your work is great; but passion and depression are often close together if you feel your love is not being requited.
As an employer, it’s important to watch those passionate staff members as the risk of burn out is real.