It’s been said, “If you love your job, you never work a day in your life.”
But a recent study shows those who feel a calling to a profession should be conscious of whether they are being exploited for their passion.
The Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business study — “Understanding Contemporary Forms of Exploitation: Attributions of Passion Serve to Legitimize the Poor Treatment of Workers” — revealed that people find it more acceptable to ask a passionate employee to do extra, unpaid and even irrelevant work than they did for employees without the same passion.
“It’s great to love your work, but there can be costs when we think of the workplace as somewhere workers get to pursue their passions,” Duke University professor Aaron Kay, senior author on the research, said.
The researchers found that people consider it more legitimate to make passionate employees leave family to work on a weekend, work unpaid and handle unrelated tasks that were not in the job description.
University of Oregon professor and study researcher Troy Campbell said the project revealed different ways passion is exploited.
“There’s ‘I’m going to make you work and pay you little,’ but there’s so many ways we get exploited” in academia, Campbell says, as well as in the arts — expecting artists to be paid in “exposure” because they love what they do, for example.
Indeed, artists have long been undervalued for their work, said Liora Sponko, executive director of the Lane Arts Council in Eugene, Oregon.
“Many times we get calls asking us to refer artists to their event, and they might not have a budget to pay them,” she explained. “We believe that artists are professionals and it’s a valid industry where they should be paid adequately at market rate.”
The study, conducted by Campbell, Kay, Oklahoma State University professor Steven Shepherd and Duke University doctoral student and lead author Jae Kim, was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in April.
The project was conducted over five years, through eight scenario-based studies of more than 2,400 participants. The studies tested for passion at an occupational level and whether people are more likely to legitimize exploiting workers from professions more strongly associated with passion. It also investigated whether people view exploitative treatment as more legitimate when it’s targeted to a passionate employee rather than a dispassionate one.
When the results of the study found that this type of exploitation was rampant, Campbell said the researchers weren’t surprised at all. He explained that the study was pulling from existing theories about how the mind works and how society views passion in modern times, and the paper provides a conceptual clarity and nuance to people who haven’t thought about this.
Now that these ideas have been published, Campbell said the “where do we go from here is very hard.” He said some have advocated for not allowing unpaid internships, but he added that isn’t the solution.
“It seems cliché, but we need to be more thoughtful and more educated,” he said. “You need to be in a constant conversation with employees or people around you to see, ‘Are we exploiting people’s passions in any way?’”
Eugene, Oregon, artist Lindsay Swing said most artists have struggled with exploitation. Devaluing gets reflected in the way that makes negotiating prices difficult, she said, because it starts to feel like less money is supposed to be enough.
It’s up to organizations to model how to pay artists, Sponko said.
Swing said that change has to start in the community and through sharing knowledge.
“Once (a customer) has a knowledge of ‘why,’ it becomes a lot easier for them to realize asking for more time or asking for lower price is exploitation,” Swing says.
Simply changing how one approaches discussing compensation is a start.
“When hiring an artist, a simple yet often overlooked step is to ask the artist directly what they charge for their service, product or performance. Let the artist set their fees and refrain from negotiating,” Sponko said. “This will empower the artist to provide you with the utmost value and you will be grateful for the quality work you receive.”
And while passion can lead to exploitation, Campbell said that is no reason for people to not peruse careers in a field that they are enthusiastic about.
“In no way am I anti-passion. I’m the definition of someone who has sacrificed so much to pursue passion,” he said. “But the choice to do that and the negative things associated should be something you choose, not the system taking advantage of you.”