Passion is No Ordinary Word

Originally posted January 2011

Everyone has their own most disliked management phrase. Mine is probably the use of the word passion in the world of work. I don’t know whether it arose from an over-active marketing executive or is part of a general trend to use words conveying strong emotions in a way where their meaning becomes debased. But when I see a sentence in a recent blog like “we need more love, courage and passion in our workplaces” I cringe (and not only at the potential sexual harassment cases coming my way).

Setting aside its sexual and religious meanings, the most common definitions of passion are “a powerful or compelling emotion” and “a strong or extravagant desire”.  Are either of these really the sort of behaviours we expect to see, let alone encourage, in the workplace? And do we want HR people to be “passionate” about our work, as I’ve read recently?

Let me give you an example using a different strong emotion. I’ve just redrafted a time off in lieu policy for a client, under which a small group of staff would be disadvantaged. In consultation, one affected member of staff told the Chief Executive that when she read the new policy she was “angry”. As a friend of mine commented “I get angry about children starving in Africa. I might get a bit annoyed if I didn’t like the way my company had changed one of its policies.”

So let’s be clear. I enjoy working in HR, I often find it fun or stimulating, and I can sometimes become very enthusiastic about aspects of it. But passionate about HR – no!

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