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Is Your Job Your Passion or Just a Paycheck?


by Alex Alusheff

Studies show employee disinterest leads to poor work performance and higher turnover

By Alex Alusheff, for SIOP

For some employees, their job is their passion. For others, their job is just a paycheck. Though it might not seem important to know why someone is working, SIOP members warn that disinterest can be very damaging.

Chris Nye, along with Fritz Drasgow, Rong Su, and James Rounds discovered just how damaging disinterest can be during a recent research study. Vocational interests have generally been ignored in the employee selection literature, said Nye, a psychology professor at Bowling Green State University, so the team conducted a meta-analysis to examine how vocational interests correlate with performance. Their research was published in the July issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science.

The group found that disinterest in a job can have several negative effects on employees and organizations, leading to lower work performance as well as higher turnover, Nye explained. Disinterested employees were also less willing to perform organizational citizenship behaviors, such as helping out coworkers or going the extra mile with a task that might go beyond the job description.

Nye said one reason for disinterest could be that some people have interests that are not incorporated into their position. People have multiple interests, and it’s important to match those up with the job, Nye explained. Someone could be interested in artistic activities but also be interested in working with people.

“Not only do you need to pay attention to a person’s primary interest but their others also to see how well-suited they are to the job,” Nye said.

Another reason for disinterest could be that some employees are not aware of the realities of a job until they have it.

“People have a lot of preconceived notions about a job, but once they get in, they might find it’s nothing like they expected,” Nye said.

Although circumstances like these correlate with higher turnover, disinterested employees don’t always quit their jobs, said Craig Russell, professor of business administration at University of Oklahoma. This can lead to other, sometimes dangerous, consequences.

In a recent study conducted in central Europe, Russell created a model to forecast turnover in nurses based on a series of scenarios. Although the model improved turnover prediction by nearly 50%, it found that nurses who were predicted to turnover but didn’t were more likely to infect a patient because of their lack of attentiveness and care for the job.

“Floor infection rates were more than 140% higher when staffed by nurses who didn’t want to be there,” Russell said.

According to the Center for Disease Control, there are approximately 30,000 cases of hospital-acquired infections annually, costing $50,000 per incident for additional time and healthcare.

“The problem with nursing is that there is an oversupply of nurses but an undersupply of nurses willing to work traditional hospital nursing jobs,” Russell said. “Everyone works jobs they don’t want to do. The nurses stayed because they needed money or felt a commitment to coworkers and a commitment to paying their bills.”

Even when disinterested employees stay at their jobs, organizations do have options to try and improve their work performance and interest. During the hiring process, organizations can measure interest through interest inventories to better match an applicant to the job, Nye suggested. Sometimes it may not be the employee’s fault, and it is up to the organization to make improvements.

“Give employees more autonomy and allow them to do things they are interested in if it’s within the scope of the job,” Nye added.

Identifying the employee turnover in an organization and changing the working conditions to see if it will change the rates of turnover and performance could also help, Russell advised.

If an employee is still not interested, they can always hone their skills, Nye added.

“If someone is an engineer and not interested in their current job, but they want a managerial position, they can always prepare more for that particular position,” Nye said. “They can go back to school or take a development program offered by the organization so that they will be more qualified for that type of position.”