You Made a Contract — Now Honor It

Over the past ten years, I have conducted an informal (not empirical) study with hundreds of my clients in the privacy of my office. These clients are professionals who were being seen for career development, undergoing a career assessment, getting career counseling, or receiving outplacement assistance, etc. As I got to know these individuals more intimately, I would ask each of them a few questions:

How Productive Are You in Your Job on Any Given Day?

Most clients would respond by asking me what I meant by the term productive, and I would give examples such as:

  • When you attend a business meeting or when you are part of a task team, do you come fully prepared, or are you ill-prepared because you lack interest or simply don’t have the talent or skills to be a valuable contributor?
  • How much time do you spend with co-workers discussing non-business issues or conducting personal business on the phone or Internet instead of performing your duties?
  • Do you find yourself daydreaming?
  • Do you spend time thinking about what you are going to do after work instead of focusing your energies on what you are getting paid to do?

After offering these examples, my clients understand what I mean when I ask about their level of productivity. In averaging the responses over the years, I have calculated that these employees functioned at about 65% of their capacity. Since I am not the world’s greatest mathematician and because I am a generous person, I added 5% to round it to 70% capacity. I explain to my clients that if this is true, they are admitting to spending about 30% of their time on non-business activities. This adds up to about 1 ½ days per week, or 6-7 days per month, or between 72-84 days per year of unproductive time while on the payroll. Pretty amazing statistic, don’t you think?

After getting their agreement that the above numbers seem about right, I pose another question to my clients:

Since you’ve admitted that you spend an average of 30% of your workweek doing non-business related “stuff,” would you be willing to write a check back to your company to reflect 30% of your gross pay?

The smirk on their faces says it all, “Are you kidding?”

I explain to my clients that when they signed on to work for their company, they made a contract with their employer and, in essence, agreed to perform a certain set of functions and duties in exchange for a salary, office space, benefits, and all the necessary tools to do their jobs efficiently and successfully. By not working at 100% capacity, they have broken the contract and not kept up with their end of the agreement. And yet, the company continues to issue a check each payroll period for the full amount of the original agreement.

Who Do You Think is Getting the Short End of This Deal?

It has been my experience that, in general, most people want to act responsibly and do a good job. Yet, if the findings from my informal study ring true, then why do so many employees spend a substantial portion of their time engaged in non-productive behavior?

We can accept the fact that on any given day, any of us may be distracted from our work because of a personal issue, not feeling well, being upset with the boss, or perhaps we are not excited about the project, etc.

However, when an employee is spending a substantial portion of his/her time not doing the company’s business, there are deeper and more serious causal factors. Let’s look at some of the more common ones:

The Individual…

  • is “over her head” and not equipped to perform the assigned tasks.
  • is in a job that does not match her best talents, skills or interests.
  • realizes that he isn’t a good “fit” with the business environment.
  • doesn’t believe in the corporate mission and/or its products and services.
  • doesn’t seem to get along with her co-workers.
  • realizes that “something is missing” but is not sure why she is unhappy.
  • has no focus or clear career direction.
  • may have more serious personal or physical problems.
  • is “stuck” in his role with little opportunity to advance or be involved in more challenging work.
  • feels grossly unappreciated.
  • realizes that she made a “bad” choice of her profession.
  • stays on the job because of financial, family and other personal commitments.

All of the above fall within the category of “clutter.” These factors, real or imagined, leave the employee feeling frustrated. If the situation is not resolved, employees inevitably become less committed to their work, and the natural consequence is that productivity diminishes.

The Core Themes program is specifically designed to correct these serious issues. A central concept of Core Themes is that the individual is responsible for their state of happiness or unhappiness in their life and in their work. Of course, there are contributing factors, and the company has certain obligations and responsibilities as well. But, at the end of the day, it is the person you view in the mirror each morning that is accountable.

One of the first steps in helping my clients take responsibility for their actions is to have them understand how their “clutter” impacts directly on their happiness and performance. Secondly, our goal is to help them see that they can minimize the clutter and oftentimes get rid of it altogether. With the clutter removed or reduced, the individual has a greater sense of “clarity.” And we know from our own life experiences that clarity leads to making better decisions.


“After 22 years of successful work as an HR professional in corporate environments, I suddenly found myself unhappy and unmotivated. My new manager, one too many re-organizations, and changing company values all added to my waning engagement in the work I did. It was time for a change, but I just didn’t know what.

The Core Themes work helped me identify strong needs for me around artistic and creative pursuits. I also tested extremely high in the need for autonomy.

Armed with the knowledge and with the help of HR and my boss, I was able to move into a role that was more compatible with my Core Themes.

It’s been years since I have felt this jazzed about what I am doing. I feel in control of my own destiny. This feels right. I feel alive and excited about the future.

I came across a quote that I have displayed on the wall of my office. It goes like this:”

“Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘WOW! What a Ride!’”

Kristie is fairly typical of professionals who let their clutter lead them to feeling “stuck” in a job that is no longer satisfying. Kristie didn’t know how to get “unstuck” until she took a deep look within herself and honestly examined her motives and needs.

Just think of the years of ever-increasing unhappiness and feeling badly because you know that you are not doing the job that measures up to your capabilities. Unfortunately, no one wins in this scenario—the employee feels lousy and guilty, and the employer loses out by not receiving the full benefit of the employee’s talents.

If we choose to remain in a job that is unrewarding, then we must accept the natural consequences. It’s that simple!

At the same time, we have made a contract with our employer and therefore we have a moral and ethical obligation to find a solution to our problem.

– Ray Inglesi