Employer-Employee Loyalty, an Outdated Concept?

The word loyalty is so outdated it is practically laughable. Long gone are the days when an employer would keep an employee for life, as are the days when an employee would work for a single company for his or her entire career.

Workplace guru Linda Gratton says, “Loyalty is dead – killed off through shortening contracts, outsourcing, automation and multiple careers. Faced with what could be 50 years of work, who honestly wants to spend that much time with one company? Serial monogamy is the order of the day.”

Right or wrong, the commitment on each side of the equation is weak. Take the example of Renault. It ended the 31-year career of employee Michel Balthazard (and two others) on charges of espionage. The problem? The charges were proved false. When the falseness of the charges became public, Renault halfheartedly offered the employees their jobs back and a lame apology: “Renault thanks them for the quality of their work at the group and wishes them every success in the future.”

As for employee’s loyalty to their employers, that too is worth little nowadays. One manager with Deloitte says the current employee attitude is, “I’m leaving, I had a great experience, and I’m taking that with me.”

Employers tend to cut commitments to an employee, and reduce his or her benefits, the minute they perceive they can do so. Employees tend to jump at the best available job offer as soon as they see it.

The sooner we see the employment experience for what it is (mostly transactional, mostly short- to medium-term), the better off we’ll be. The workplace is no place for fantasies.

Counterpoint

There are employers and employees who show little regard for each other. That each side can be uncaring or cavalier is hardly a revelation. No doubt such cynical attitudes are as old as the employment relationship itself.

But is that the norm? And is it desirable? The answer to both these questions is no.

Says management guru Tom Peters, “Bottom line: loyalty matters. A lot. Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow.” University of Michigan’s Dave Ulrich says, “Leaders who encourage loyalty want employees who are not only committed to and engaged in their work but who also find meaning from it.”

It is true that the employer – employee relationship has changed. For example, (largely) gone are the days when employers provide guaranteed payout pensions to which employees contribute nothing. But is that such a bad thing? There is a big difference between asking employees to contribute to their pension plans and abandoning plans altogether (or firing without cause).

Moreover, it’s not that loyalty is dead, but rather that employers are loyal to a different kind of employee. Gone are the days when an employer would refuse to fire a long-tenured but incompetent employee. But is that the kind of loyalty most employees expect today anyway? Companies are loyal to employees who do their jobs well, and that too is as it should be.

In short, employees still expect certain standards of decency and loyalty from their employers, and employers want engaged, committed employees in return. That is a good thing—and not so different from yesterday. Says workplace psychologist Binna Kandola, “Workplaces may have changed but loyalty is not dead – the bonds between people are too strong.”

 

Source: P. Korkki, “The Shifting Definition of Worker Loyalty,” New York Times (April 24, 2011), p. BU8; Is Workplace Loyalty an Outmoded Concept?” Financial Times (March 8, 2011), http://www.ft.com/; O. Gough and S. Arkani, “The Impact of the Shifting Pensions Landscape on the Psychological Contract,” Personnel Review 40, No. 2 (2011), pp. 173-184.