all in

When to Stay Loyal to an Employer

Ask The Expert

By Barbara Mitchell

Q: My manager keeps talking about how she and our organization expect employees to be loyal to the organization. I understand why, but shouldn’t loyalty work both ways? I don’t think they see it that way.

A: You’re right—loyalty should go both ways, but the lines have become blurred over the past few years. It is all too common for employers to complain that their people aren’t loyal and then do things that demonstrate their disregard for their people.

Work has evolved into something quite different from the past—people no longer work for one organization for their entire career. Sometimes it’s their choice to move on for a better opportunity or more money, but often the choice is made by the organization when it eliminates jobs or reorganizes. Many people also work as independent contractors who are brought in on a project basis.

Things really began to change in the 1980s, when layoffs were common. Employees who expected to stay for life now found themselves looking for a new job, and not necessarily because of their work performance. These actions broke the bond that had existed for years between employer and employee.

Work has evolved into something quite different from the past—people no longer work for one organization for their entire career.

The employer-employee relationship is now in a different place. Many employers think of their employees as short-term resources. And, because there is no guarantee of lifetime employment, job security depends on employees having the skills and abilities the employer needs at any given moment.

The good news is that this new relationship frees employees to focus on building their skills in whatever job they’re in, and when they’ve grown and learned as much as they can in a position, they can move on, guilt-free, to another organization where they can make a bigger contribution.

It goes without saying that unreciprocated loyalty to an employer doesn’t do anyone any good. Don’t stay with an employer longer than you should just because you think you should be loyal. If the loyalty is a two-way street, sticking around can be OK, but when it’s one-sided, no one wins.

Employers who are loyal to their employees look out for their employees’ best interests, providing them with development opportunities, paying them fairly, and listening to what they need to be successful. This doesn’t mean the employer expects its current workforce to stay forever, but the organization wants its team members to stay as long as they are productive.

If you don’t see that your organization values you and others for your contributions, perhaps it is time for you to move to a place where you are more appreciated.

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you’d like her to answer in “Ask the Expert”? Send it to [email protected].

Career Development