Don't let your passion result in exploitation.

When it comes to choosing career paths, there's been increased emphasis on following your passion. Whether that results in a portfolio-style career or an industry change at some point in your career story, more and more people are pursuing what they love — not just what pays the bills.

And that's great! Everyone deserves to feel happy and fulfilled in their work lives. Unfortunately, however, being passionate about your work can often lead to exploitation. Research from Duke University's Fuqua School of Business has shown that employees who are perceived as passionate about their work are more likely to be taken advantage of, evidenced in the legitimization of requests to work extra, unpaid hours or take on tasks outside of their job descriptions.

Does this mean you shouldn't pursue the career path that makes you happy? Absolutely not. However, it may mean that you should keep an eye out for the signs of passion exploitation. Read on to learn about identifying the red flags and, more importantly, how to avoid being taken advantage of in the first place. 

Signs you're being taken advantage of at work

1. You're the go-to employee for tasks outside of your job description

New initiatives arise often, and there will always be some extra tasks that don't quite fit under anyone's actual job description. That said, those tasks should be evenly dispersed among your team members. If it seems like all extraneous assignments tend to end up on your plate, your boss may be mistaking your passion for availability for projects that you can't handle.

2. You're expected to work extra hours … constantly

Similarly, when someone is passionate about their work, others may find it acceptable to give them the “opportunity” to work overtime. After all, if you love what you do so much, why wouldn't you want to do it all the time?

Obviously, this logic is flawed. If your employer is constantly expecting you to work more than your contract defines, it's a surefire sign that they are exploiting your passion.

3. Your boss doesn't respect your time off

Whether it's a week-long vacation or an extended weekend, everyone needs a break from work once in a while. Barring an office emergency, your time off should be exactly that — time away from your work responsibilities. That means that your team shouldn't reach out every few hours with questions or issues. No matter how much you love your job, vacation time is for your benefit — your boss and co-workers should respect that.

How to make sure you aren't exploited for your passion

If you've identified any of these warning signs in your own work life, there are steps you can take to improve the situation. Consider these ways you can stand up for yourself and prevent passion exploitation.

Know your worth

Are you getting paid enough? Sites like Glassdoor and PayScale can help you identify your market value so you can determine if your current compensation is appropriate for the kind of work that you do. This is especially important for potentially exploited professionals because their roles can often expand into ones that warrant a higher pay grade — without any of the formality of a title change or raise.

If you feel that your role has been evolving, keep an eye on how your market value may be changing with it. You may reach a point where you need to ask for a raise to reflect what your role has become.

Set boundaries for yourself

You may not be able to help if your boss respects your boundaries, but you can establish them for yourself. Set a personal rule that you will close out each workday at a certain time, or set an intention that you will not bring your work home with you. If you feel empowered enough, you can even decline supplemental projects that are offered to you if you know you don't have the time or energy. The goal here is to avoid exploitation by taking control of your work/life balance.

The importance of passion

Being passionate about your career is essential if you want to find longevity and fulfillment. The only caveat is that, when surrounded by the wrong people, that passion can lead to exploitation. As you do what you love, simply look out for the warning signs that someone may be taking advantage of your enthusiasm. A little awareness and the courage to stand up for yourself can go a long way in maintaining both your happiness and professional integrity.

Has the exploitation gone too far? If you're ready to find a new role, start your job search with a free, objective resume critique.

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