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Monday, January 24, 2011

Loyalty: A Dead Workplace Value?

I keep hearing a word that pops up regularly that is completely alarming when I ask job seekers to describe themselves. The conversation usually goes like something like this:

Me: “Ok, now tell me some of your personal strengths and attributes that make you good for this type of job.”

Job seeker: “I’m driven, dedicated, and extremely loyal.”


Let’s interrupt this conversation to have a frank discussion about “loyal.”

It always gives me pause because of its contradictory nature when used in the job search process. Semantics mean everything, and this word requires us to dig a little deeper to uncover a huge problem in its use. This brings up two fundamental questions:

Question #1: If an applicant is so loyal, then why are they leaving the employer?


Question #2: Why aren't companies loyal to dedicated employees instead of laying them off?

Isn’t this expression of ‘loyalty’ technically supposed go both ways? Employees are supposed to be loyal to companies… and companies are supposed to be loyal to good employees, right?

Today’s reality sure doesn’t look that way.

FACT: We spend a significant portion of our lifetime in the workplace… sometimes even more than we spend with our families, on average. The math doesn’t lie: Out of 168 hours in an entire week, we spend approximately 40 sleeping, 73 on our own time, 10 hours commuting, and 45+ hours in the office environment (including lunch time). Out of our entire waking time during any given week, we spend at least 41% in our place of work.

That’s a significant chunk. With that amount of time being spent with co-workers, it’s easy to come to think of this group somewhat as a ‘second family’ – a natural assumption given the complex array of relationships that evolve in working so closely with a group of people over so many hours.

But there’s an emotional connection in there as well, which goes deeper than the perfunctory professional connection. People bond with their fellow employees and supervisors, and there’s a sense of belonging and security that results. Workers are motivated and inspired to throw themselves into their work and oftentimes, exceed what is being asked of them in an effort to help push the company forward. They invest trust in the management and owners in that the executives have the employees' collective back.

Then one of three scenarios happens:

1) The unthinkable. Business drops off, or there’s a change in organizational leadership.

Things end up not being the way they used to be. There are more closed-door meetings, and morale might plummet as a result. Staff members don’t like the new management or direction, and begin looking for new opportunities and want to jump ship. In other cases, changes like these can mean a pink slip. Struggling to understand, the employees are devastated. “I put my heart and soul into that company!” “I worked hundreds of hours of overtime and never noted it just to get the project done on time.”“I loved my job and always got good reviews… what happened?”

2) The flattery of the competitive offer. You’ve worked hard, and it’s been noticed. Competitors try to snatch you away from your current employer and gee, it’s too good to resist so off you go.

3) Boredom / Disconnect. Sometimes, there is simply a shift away from the employer’s engagement in the employee, and the worker begins to feel disconnected and alienated. That’s when they begin looking for new opportunities to learn new things, be challenged, or move to the next level of their career because there is nowhere else to grow.

How we think about the workplace needs to shift. Sure there are a lot of warm fuzzies that are part of any corporate or business culture, which makes you part of a team. And team chemistry is an important part of the equation.

But don’t forget, for even one moment, that the workplace is first and foremost a business environment, and your being there is a mutual business decision.

Companies make personnel decisions based on business, not loyalty.  Some still allow loyalty to be factored into decision making, but that is quickly being phased out. It's all about dollar and cents now.

Look at this way: You made a business decision to work for them based on the compensation and work that you would be doing, and they have hired you to do a job based on your skills and performance.

Ultimately, I’m becoming ever convinced that loyalty in the workplace has become obsolete. Long gone are the allegiances that employees make to a company that seem forever binding, and stay in the same position for time immemorial until they retire. And conversely, employers may overlook long-serving employees and see an opportunity to eliminate 'dead wood,' infuse new ideas, and trim overhead costs.

Loyalty expressed now in a résumé or cover letter almost seems a quaint, outdated expression instead of a statement of integrity these days.

So what do you think?

Do you think employee loyalty exists still?

Do employers still express loyalty to long-serving employees?

Or is this all about to be erased?


Anonymous said...

I think I gave up feeling obligated to be loyal, the minute I realized employers felt no such obligation. Which was during the 90s or maybe even the 80s when that particular recession and those particular layoffs were all over the news media. It felt like I was being a little vindictive then, but later it became freeing, to read my employee agreement and see the "at will" clause.

Nonetheless, there is still loyalty to oneself, and that still dictates that your resume not be filled with job-hopping and short stints!

Posting anonymously so nosy employers can't attribute my comments.... hahaha

Stephen Van Vreede said...

I'm not sure where the idea began that a person was "disloyal" if he or she left a company. Or, for that matter, if a company was "disloyal" if it did not take care of its employees for the span of their careers (or lives). Somewhere, people got the impression that an employment agreement was in par with a marriage agreement and meant "until death [or retirement] do us part."

In my mind, loyalty on the part of the worker is living up to the agreements made as part of the conditions of your employment with that company. You give 100% while you are there. And on the other side, the company provides the proper working conditions and business environment for you, doing everything it can to stay profitable and efficient so that we all have jobs. That's really it. Neither side can, or should, pledge forever when neither knows what tomorrow will bring.

I am hoping that in today's market, younger workers can understand that business is, well, business and that the company has to do what it has to do. And that you as the worker have to do what you have to do. This doesn't make someone disloyal or even "selfish" (another popular term). It's part of career management, and if you don't learn how to manage your career, then someone else certainly will. At the same time, companies need to stop pretending they are anything but what they are, businesses, and stop making promises that they obviously cannot keep.

JobSearchHelper said...

I agree with you when it comes to companies are starting to phase out "loyalty" as their decision making. However, I still notice many companies are still holding on to the idea that the longer the tenure, the higher the pay.

Pathfinder Writing and Careers said...

These are very interesting comments- thank you for sharing your insights. It is absolutely true that workers should feel loyal to doing the best job possible, but also keep in mind that that alone will not keep them from possibly losing their jobs. There is nothing wrong to be dedicated to your work, but I think that there also has to be a fine emotional line that should not be crossed- there is no more luxury in feeling that loyalty equates job security any more!