Understanding contemporary forms of exploitation: Attributions of passion serve to legitimize the poor treatment of workers

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2020 Jan;118(1):121-148. doi: 10.1037/pspi0000190. Epub 2019 Apr 18.


The pursuit of passion in one's work is touted in contemporary discourse. Although passion may indeed be beneficial in many ways, we suggest that the modern cultural emphasis may also serve to facilitate the legitimization of unfair and demeaning management practices-a phenomenon we term the legitimization of passion exploitation. Across 7 studies and a meta-analysis, we show that people do in fact deem poor worker treatment (e.g., asking employees to do demeaning tasks that are irrelevant to their job description, asking employees to work extra hours without pay) as more legitimate when workers are presumed to be "passionate" about their work. Of importance, we demonstrate 2 mediating mechanisms by which this process of legitimization occurs: (a) assumptions that passionate workers would have volunteered for this work if given the chance (Studies 1, 3, 5, 6, and 8), and (b) beliefs that, for passionate workers, work itself is its own reward (Studies 3, 4, 5, 6, and 8). We also find support for the reverse direction of the legitimization process, in which people attribute passion to an exploited (vs. nonexploited) worker (Study 7). Finally, and consistent with the notion that this process is connected to justice motives, a test of moderated mediation shows this is most pronounced for participants high in belief in a just world (Study 8). Taken together, these studies suggest that although passion may seem like a positive attribute to assume in others, it can also license poor and exploitative worker treatment. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Job Satisfaction*
  • Male
  • Reward*
  • Workload / psychology*
  • Workplace / psychology*
  • Young Adult