Employee Loyalty… A thing of the past?


There is a lot of online chatter today about employee loyalty as if it is something employees should have toward their employer, and frankly, I find it rather amusing.  The companies who expect blind loyalty from their employees are often the same ones who callously exercise layoffs to reduce overhead in a tough market. So, what kind of loyalty should employers expect.?  The kind of loyalty that will stick with them through the tough times?  When things aren’t going so well?  Should they stay loyal even after several quarters where no bonuses are paid out?  What about when they have had to endure the instability of having multiple managers in a relatively short time span?  Should they do this as a “good soldier” and be thankful that they have a job?

What exactly is the appropriate amount of loyalty in our economy?  Are we talking about loyalty to a company? Is it loyalty to a Brand or Person?  As a search professional, I am often faced with a scenario where a prospective candidate is emotionally processing the reality of resigning from their current company to start a new job. This is often a very stressful time as they contemplate delivering the terrible news to an unsuspecting boss.  Usually, they miscalculated the response they will get.  Recently, while recruiting for a VP US Sales for a $4B medical device company, the chosen candidate and I discussed his resignation process and the expected counter-offer.  He assured me that he and his boss were such “good friends,” and the opportunity was so great for him, that his boss would be happy for him and wish him well on his new journey.  What he met with was far from the warm sentiment that he expected. His boss paid “lip service” to that idea, yet followed up with a very aggressive lawsuit and an attempt to obtain an injunction keeping him from working for his new company.  With situations like this, it begs the question, “where is loyalty appropriate when it comes to “Business?”

Obviously, this “High Ranking Official” according to the plaintiff had an opportunity in a bigger and better role in the new company that he would not have had in his current company.  Believing that his boss and “friend” ultimately wanted what was best for him, he naively agonized over his impending resignation believing that he was going to “really let his boss down personally.” When he witnessed a very different response than what he had expected, he doubtless had one of those “Aha Moments” that can leave a person jaded.  What he thought his boss felt for him, was only an illusion. His boss was only “for him” as long as it benefited himself.  When it was no longer in his boss’s interest to be a friend, he quickly turned into a much different person, even an adversary with a lawsuit naming this individual, putting his family at risk.

So when I read articles about companies wanting to engender more loyalty in their employees, and seeing it as a failure of the individual that there isn’t more of it, I have to laugh. Yes, perhaps I am jaded as well. Since I have personally witnessed so many people’s disillusionment after meeting with unexpected hostility from the people they trust, I have a pragmatic view of these things.

Here is my advice for anyone in this situation: 

Employers:  If you’re not loyal to your employees, don’t expect them to be loyal to you.  Take a sincere interest in the people who have been entrusted to you. Make sure that you know what their hopes and dreams are.  If their hopes can’t be realized under your leadership, encourage them to find it elsewhere and work with them to find that place where they can be challenged to achieve their dreams.  I realize that most managers are not capable of this kind of commitment, but the key is that a leader should not expect greater loyalty from their employees than they have for their employees.

If you are in HR, quit using this “Employee Loyalty” rouse to make people feel obligated to stay in a job when a better, more fulfilling opportunity may await them elsewhere.  If you really want to keep the best of the best, make it hard to leave by how generous you are to them.  Earn their loyalty by showing them yours.

Talent is king! The war for talent demands that the best people be taken very good care of in order to keep them engaged and yes, even “loyal.”

Employees: Don’t be loyal to a company. A company is nothing more than a P&L, logo or brand identity undeserving of such emotional commitment. Remember that it is your own responsibility to provide for your family so be proactive and pursue mastery of your career until you are compelled either by your boss or by your own drive to find a place to grow, be challenged and develop new skills and talents.

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Realize that you will be with your current company only for as long as it makes sense to THEM for you to be there.  When it ceases to be so, you will be like so many who are on your own to find a solution to your new, unwelcome reality of being jobless.

This is business, and if you don’t look out for yourself, no one else will.  I know, this ranks right up there with the fatherly advice many of us received that “Life isn’t fair.”  Get over it and move on. Yet, you would be amazed to know how many people I tell this to who seem to have a rude awakening after realizing it’s over.

Everyone needs to manage their own career. You cannot wait around to be called up, or the call may never come.  Ultimately it is up to you to make positive things happen.  I often say that it is better to be the one calling the audible for change than being the one hearing them without being prepared.