How Employees Develop Passion For Work

As a new generation enters the workforce, a growing number of people are seeking passion for work. They desire to attain passion, or a strong sense of enjoyment, fulfillment, identification, and motivation from their work. Ample studies have demonstrated that passion for work predicts positive individual and organizational outcomes, including positive affect (good feelings), lower burnout, and higher job satisfaction.

Despite the popularity of studying the outcomes of passion for work, relatively few studies have examined how passion for work is achieved. In this article, researchers (Chen, Ellsworth, & Schwarz, 2015) identified two different mindsets that people often endorse when considering how passion for work is attained – fit theory and develop theory. Through four different studies, the authors showed that fit and develop theorists tend to have different passion expectations and make different vocational choices. While they are almost equally likely to experience passion, satisfaction, and commitment at work, they attain these outcomes through different paths.


People endorsing fit theory believe that passion can be achieved when there is a fit between the individual and the line of work. This theory is reflected in the popular phrase of “follow your passion.” Passion in this phrase refers to a line of work which people consider a perfect fit. Both the fit theory and the follow your passion notion are based on the assumption that individuals have a general understanding of what their interests and strengths are, and they know what kind of work would be a good match.

However, not everyone has a good grasp of what type of work is a perfect fit. Furthermore, in a tight job market, most individuals don’t have the luxury of choosing their preferred vocations. Consistent with these situations, some people adopt the develop theory, which suggests that instead of feeling passion at the beginning, people can develop or cultivate passion as they gain mastery and expertise in any line of work.

In short, people endorsing the fit theory believe that passion for work is obtained through matching personal characteristics with the right line of work, while those endorsing the develop theory think passion for a line of work can be developed over time. In this study, the authors designed scales to measure whether an individual endorses the fit theory or develop theory.


Through four studies based on both hypothetical and actual scenarios, the authors found significant differences in expected passion for work and career choices between fit and develop theorists. When asked to choose between an enjoyable but lowly paid line of work and a less enjoyable but highly paid line of work, fit theorists were more likely to select the former while develop theorists were more likely to select the latter.

Fit theorists anticipated more passion for the enjoyable but lowly paid line of work than the less enjoyable but highly paid line of work. On the other hand, develop theorists anticipated feeling equally passionate about both lines of work, suggesting it was reasonable for them to select the work with higher pay. In addition, it was the individual’s expected passion in the two different lines of work that explained why there was a link between theory endorsement and career selection. In other words, fit theorists are more likely to choose the enjoyable but lowly paid line of work because they anticipate feeling more passion in that line of work compared to develop theorists.

Additionally, the authors found that both fit and develop theory endorsement can account for feelings of passion, satisfaction, and commitment at work, although through different paths. While fit theorists tend to choose work that provides them with passion and then maintain a relatively stable level of passion, develop theorists generally start their work with a lower level of passion but gradually achieve the same level of passion as fit theorists as time goes by.


This research provides important practical implications on career advising, coaching, and development in organizations. First of all, helping all employees to form a develop theory mindset can be a good way to assist them in cultivating passion for their line of work. In cases where people strongly endorse a particular theory and are reluctant to change their mindset, career advisors and HR practitioners should consider adopting the right strategies to help different people. For example, realistic job previews and personality tests are particularly effective at allowing fit theorists and organizations to find a good match and enable employees to achieve passion for their work. On the other hand, organizational socialization, training, learning, and other on-boarding integration events would be more helpful for develop theorists to attain that same level of passion for their work.