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How to evaluate your energetic contracts

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After reading your employment contract, you know your start date, how much you’ll get paid and what’s going to happen when you leave.

The contents have barely evolved since the first one ever was scrawled on a stone tablet. When I ask you to consider your holistic relationship with an employer today (and I often ask about that), the scope of your employment contract alone is… tiny.

What is an energetic contract?

The energetic contract between you and your work includes everything in the employment contract and everything BEYOND it. To understand it, we do two things:

  1. See and acknowledge what you have to offer
  2. Evaluate the value you’re receiving in return

Here’s what I mean…

What do you have to offer?

Remember how one third of your waking life is spent working, give or take? During that time, you have an energetic output, a pace, a level of interest and pride in your work. In HR we might call this your level of “engagement”.

Then you have your actual skills and experience that you use to do your job, and your aptitude for developing those skills further (your potential).

Combining high engagement with strong skills, and especially high potential, is the key to a great offer.

And spoiler alert: when you’re doing the work you were made to do, as in you love it and it uses your special gifts, you’re maxing out what you have to offer.

Sounds fun, right? Also super valuable to have engaged people using their skills and growing all the time? Yes, employers love that!

Which is why we also need to consider…

What are you receiving in return?

The employment contract ignores your engagement, skills and potential. For the purpose of that document, each human with the same job title is basically the same. The employment contract is concerned with what the company is providing to you: your income, vacation and benefits.

But there’s more. Consider the opportunity cost – to YOU – of being in a slightly higher paying job with limited learning opportunities or upward mobility, versus being in slightly lower paying job with room to develop? Over the course of a career, it makes a massive difference.

Consider being in a slightly higher paying job with a manager who gradually erodes your self-esteem, versus a slightly lower paying job with a manager who lifts you up, teaches and empowers you?

Poor development opportunities and poor leadership can significantly limit your professional and personal wellbeing. Which is why we look at these things as part of the energetic contract.

A plant metaphor

Imagine two houseplants. One is next to the window in nutrient-rich soil. The other is in a dark corner with old, sandy soil. Both plants have the same watering schedule (paycheck), but the one next to the window in rich soil will thrive and the other one won’t.

This is why we need to manage our careers like a marathon, not a sprint, with more thoughtful strategy and less chasing shiny objects.

This is why we need to have a career plan, and continuously ask the tough questions about what’s in and out of balance in our energetic contract with work.

This is why we need to look beyond the job we have when we make a move, and think about the job we’re interested in next.

How to restore balance

If your energetic contract is out of balance, something  needs to change. You can either change your offer, change the value you’re getting in return, or start fresh elsewhere with a whole new contract. Here are some ideas to put you in the driver’s seat while figuring it out:

  • Start with what you want to offer. How much time, energy, commitment and effort you invest in your work is your choice
  • If you struggle with stress, if you find your offer is costing you too much, and you’ve tried everything, consider this: your stress could be a message that there’s something better out there for you
  • If you’re happy with your offer, but you’re not getting enough value back in return, get proactive.
  • Articulate the value you want to someone who can actually make it happen. Whether it’s more money or vacation or benefits or learning or support or opportunity, just ask!
  • If you think your lack of balance is time-bound by special circumstances – for example, you’re in a project-from-hell or leadership is turning over or there’s a promise of a raise but no details – be honest with yourself about how long you’re willing to wait.

A recap

Your energetic contract is the unwritten contract between you and your work . It includes the offer you provide, including the energy, skills and potential that you bring. And the value you get in return, including your conventional pay and benefits, plus your permission to grow, exercise who you are and be supported.

Now, go forth and insert yourself into an energetic contract that feels good! The world needs more of those X

Up next in the What is Work? series: A Catalyst (where work shapes who you’re becoming).

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