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Help More, Judge Less. When Loving Your Job Can Be A Problem For Colleagues

Marshall Goldsmith loves what he does. Corporate America’s preeminent executive coach has dedicated his career to helping successful people achieve positive, lasting change and behaviour; for themselves, their people, and their teams. He wants to help you make your life a little better. 

Recognised as one of the Top Ten Business Thinkers in the world, and author of numerous New York Times best sellers including Triggers and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, the award-winning business educator and coach is modest about his accomplishments and influence in the C-Suite.

“I don’t do this for fame and accolades. I do this because I love helping people!”

Marshall Goldsmith has spent over four decades loving what he does. And he has helped countless others, including the late Warren Bennis, Founding Chairman of the Leadership Foundation to reflect on their own path and emotional well-being. And on his website, he encourages individuals to be their own change agent, with a simple experiment:

As you go through your day, evaluate every activity at work or at home on a 1 to 10 scale, 10 being the highest score, on two simple questions:

  • How much long-term benefit or meaning did I experience from this activity?
  • How much short-term satisfaction or happiness did I experience in this activity?

There is no right answer or acceptable range of scoring. No one can answer the questions for you. It’s your experience of happiness and meaning. Don’t think it to death.

We’re often urged to find work that we’re passionate about, with Goldsmith and others stating that should we do this, then work scarcely feels like work at all. This desire for intrinsic motivation is something that is portrayed as an almost unalloyed positive, but research published by the Academy of Management from Mijeong Kwon, Assistant Professor of Management at the University of Colorado Denver Business School, Julia Lee Cunningham, Associate Professor of Management and Organisations at University of Michigan Ross School of Business and Jon Jachimowicz, Assistant Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School highlights that it can also land us in hot water with our colleagues.

“If you love what you do, you may support like-minded others more, and judge those who work for different reasons more harshly,” the authors explain.

Judging others is something that Marshall Goldsmith warns against. As a long-standing board member of the Peter Drucker Foundation, he learned a great deal from Peter Drucker, the world’s authority on management. And from his teaching Goldsmith developed 20 “What to stop’ behaviours, based on the belief that half of the leaders he has met “don’t need to learn what to do. They need to learn what to stop.

Moralizing at work

The researchers found that individuals who possess an intrinsic passion for their work are inclined to imbue their mindset with moral virtue. However, this phenomenon of moralization poses a challenge, as those who harbor an innate love for their job are more prone to brand individuals driven by extrinsic motivations, such as financial gain or social recognition, as morally reprehensible.

“Employees who lack intrinsic motivation—no matter the reason why—may be judged as less moral, and may therefore receive less help from their colleagues, which may complicate their organizational advancement,” they explain.

The moralization of certain behaviors is a well-known phenomenon, as evidenced by the case of vegetarianism. While some individuals may adopt a vegetarian diet for non-moral reasons, such as personal taste or health concerns, those who moralize vegetarianism deem it morally right and consider non-vegetarianism to be morally wrong, leading them to judge others’ dietary choices.

Moral judgments

Furthermore, the presence of intrinsic motivation can amplify these moral judgments and lead to bias towards colleagues or subordinates who are perceived to be less intrinsically motivated. This bias may hinder individuals’ willingness to offer help or support to those who are not perceived to share the same level of passion for their work. Conversely, those who are highly intrinsically motivated may receive more support and assistance from their peers, potentially causing feelings of alienation and pressure among those who are not as passionate.

The moralization of intrinsic motivation in modern workplaces may also exacerbate the need for individuals to engage in emotional labor to demonstrate their passion for their work, leading to added stress and anxiety. In summary, the moralization of intrinsic motivation can have both positive and negative effects on workplace dynamics and requires careful consideration to balance individual and collective goals.

The implications of this study suggest that managers and leaders in the business world should exercise caution when promoting the idea of loving one’s job. Mission statements and job postings that explicitly encourage employees to “love their work” could inadvertently create a culture that moralizes intrinsic motivation and places pressure on individuals to appear passionate about their job. Such pressure may be counterproductive, leading to increased emotional labor and potential alienation of those who do not share the same level of passion.

Therefore, business leaders must recognize that not all employees may possess the same level of intrinsic motivation for their work, and that such differences should not be judged as a moral failing. Rather, a balanced approach that recognizes and values both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations for work may lead to a more inclusive and supportive work environment. By doing so, companies can foster a culture that acknowledges and respects individual differences while promoting collective success.

“If a workplace is dominated by those who ostensibly love what they do, people who are intrinsically motivated are more likely to rise to the top,” the authors conclude. “But this creates challenges for people who are motivated to work for other legitimate and important reasons. It should be totally fine to work for a number of reasons, but a culture that valorizes ‘Do what you love!’ may lead extrinsically motivated employees to manage impressions, hide how they truly feel, and appear as if they are intrinsically motivated—which can be exhausting.”

Which is why Marshall Goldsmith teaches us to Help More, Judge Less.

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