Article Review: A Tale of Passion: Linking Job Passion and Cognitive Engagement to Employee Work Performance
This paper hypothesizes that increases in job passion in workers that derive from internal, voluntary sources (i.e., desire to achieve the goal of the work process) of the workers correlate to increases in both cognitive absorption and cognitive attention of those workers. Furthermore, the authors hypothesize that increases in job passion in workers that derive from external sources (i.e., desire for status or financial rewards) correlates to a decrease in both cognitive absorption and cognitive attention. Finally, the authors hypothesize that cognitive absorption and cognitive attention in a worker correlate to improved work performance and that cognitive absorption and attention mediate job passion, whether internal or externally sourced. (Ho, Sze-Sze and Lee, 2011). In this regard, the authors define absorption as how intensely the workers focus on their work, i.e., how hard it is to distract them, and attention as how many cognitive resources are applied to the work, i.e., how hard they have to think about the work.
The authors define job passion as synthesizing both emotional liking for the job and the person’s perceptions about how important that job is. Thus, it differs significantly from external motivations, job satisfaction, and commitment to the organization. The passion can also be either harmonious, in which the individual has a voluntary affection for the job, or obsessive, in which the passion derives from either pressure or job outcomes. For example, a doctor’s harmonious passion is the desire to heal others; another doctor’s obsessive passion may be a need for the social status and income of a doctor. By splitting the source of passion in this way, it becomes possible to distinguish positive and negative outcomes as both deriving from different types of job passion.
The participants were 717 full time employees of a large insurance company from all levels within the company hierarchy. Just under one-third were male, and the participants worked an average of 7.8 years at the company and averaged 36.4 years of age. The methodology was via questionnaire; only 77% of the questionnaires were completely filled out and thus usable for the study, and of those, a total of 509 had job performance assessments available for comparison. The instrument used to measure job passion was the Passion Scale (Vallernad et al., 2003). Cognitive absorption and attention were measured with scales developed by Rothbard (2001). Work performance was based on employee performance metrics from the company. Other attributes measured as controls included job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and job identification, as well as general participant demographics.
The authors presented a structural model that provides a generally good fit to the measured data. Several of their hypotheses were demonstrated by the data. Exceptions that were not proven included that obsessive passion would be negatively correlated to cognitive attention (no significant correlation), and that cognitive attention would be positively correlated to work performance (no significant correlation). In addition, there was only small support for the hypothesis that attention and absorption mediate harmonious passion, but no significant mediation effect was found for attention and absorption as mediators for obsessive passions.
Importance or interest of research questions The authors have extended the concept of job passion by separating harmonious and obsessive passion and providing a measuring process for both types. In addition, the study demonstrates that the two types of passion have different impacts on job performance. They also demonstrated that employees who experience a harmonious passion for their work have a more intense work experience in terms of cognitive attention and absorption. Surprisingly, cognitive attention did not seem to relate to work performance; the reasons for this are unclear.
Other possible methods of investigation In this study, only a quantitative methodology was used. It would be possible to do a mixed methods study in which both quantitative and qualitative measures were taken, and these could then be triangulated. The qualitative interviews could help offset some issues with study bias. This would allow the study to gain the best of both quantitative and qualitative methods.
The study did answer several of the research questions, though it also raised more questions. Other studies have considered factors not measured in this study, including work experience and creative performance (Zhang and Bartol, 2010), value congruence, perceived support from organization and self-evaluation ((Rich, Lepine and Crawford, 2010); these may have equal relevance to the problem. Another issue not considered in this study is that of psychological safety, which can impact engagement (May, Gilson and Harter, 2004). In addition, Halbesleben & Wheeler (2008) have pointed out that the degree of embeddedness (those factors keeping a worker at a job) also impacts engagement.
Limitations of study Several limitations exist in this study. The sampling process was not ideal. As noted in Bryman & Bell (2011, pp. 204-207), sampling errors and sampling-related errors are key sources of errors in survey research. Approximately 71% of the participants actually were included in the survey due to either incomplete survey forms or missing work performance data; this is a form of convenience sampling. The differences between the sample and the overall population are defined in certain demographics outlined in the paper, but that may not identify crucial differences in populations. A more stratified sampling approach may be more appropriate.
A second source of error is that the participants were taken from only a single firm in a single industry (insurance); thus, it is unclear whether the results generalize to other companies or industries. This impacts the validity and reliability of the study. Other factors that also impact these elements are that the company’s mission and vision were not considered nor were socioeconomic issues, anxiety due to the methodology of the survey, and so on. Furthermore, only one-third (32.4%) of the participants were male, so a gender skewing may be present in these results; it is unclear if female workplace motivations are the same as for males.