So there’s a saying that I dislike:

If you collect 100% of your paycheck, then you owe 100% of your work effort.

I read it again recently in USA Today in this article: 5 Common Unprofessional Workplace Behaviours.

It is highly manipulative. Allow me to illustrate:

  1. If I pay you.
  2. Then I own you.

Just To Be Clear

An employment contract is a transaction between two people: an employer and an employee. An employer requires certain tasks to be performed – an employee wants to be paid to do those tasks. This is an exchange based on outcomes.

So here’s my first alternative:

If you collect 100% of your paycheck, then you owe completion of all your tasks in your job description, adjusted for factors not wholly within your control.

A Second Observation

When employers make a hiring decision, here is what they are aware of:

  1. Not everyone is created equal.
  2. Giving 100% attention 100% of the time is physically impossible. Or it leads to death – because if you’re wholly devoted to a task, then how do you eat/sleep/ablute?
  3. There is risk involved – the risk of hiring someone that is less than promised.


“Frittering away?” But didn’t you already expect that? Look – people know that it happens. It’s even an infographic. See above.

This means that realistic expectations include facebook time and employees-having-a-life-outside-working-hours-that-sometimes-intrudes. And, if we’re honest, that gets factored into the salary offer. The thought process: here is the list of things that a person can reasonably be expected to achieve, on average, and this is what that is worth to me – so let me discount that to take into account the fact that bad hires happen.

And a market-related salary situation does not mean that this thought process is irrelevant. All that it means is that the thought process now includes an extra step: “…Okay, so given that this is how much I am willing to pay, am I willing to hire someone at the market-related rate? Or do I keep doing it myself?”

Effort is not really a requirement. It’s part of the promotional process. It’s what gets you a good reference at the end. It’s what gets you onto the cool projects rather than being left where you can’t do too much damage.

A summary

Dear Employer

In exchange for a paycheck, you get a list of completed tasks. Sometimes, that will require a large amount of effort. But often, because you’ve discounted this job description based on worst case scenarios, and because I am no worst case scenario, that list of tasks will be adequately completed with time to spare for coffee breaks and some internet cruising and leaving a bit early on a Friday. Because that is what you have tasked me with.

But if you want me to step above and beyond our agreement, then you have to meet that with profit share and promotion and, like, actual things. You can’t just demand it by being a bully and hoping to make me feel guilty about the fact that you’ve hired me and that you pay my paycheck.



Although, a caveat:

Dear Not-A-Slave

That’s fine – but then you also need to meet your end of the bargain. Because if you’re a bit useless, then by definition, you’re not that useful. 

And there are no bonuses for just doing your job. Only for doing more than that.