#175 from R&D
Innovator Volume 4, Number 9
Price Company Loyalty?
of Oberlin, Ohio, is a retired manufacturing executive who writes
and lectures on management issues.
ago, I received a call from a friend who had been fired from his
company after 20 years of service.
(This was well before the days of restructuring and
downsizing, today's super-trendy corporate strategy of
I wrote my friend
a letter which somehow found its way into several newspapers, and
became an early voice questioning the dogma of absolute loyalty to
In light of the
continual upheavals in today's corporate world, I feel the need to
quote myself. Hereís
what I wrote my friend:
mulling over your comments about feeling deeply hurt at being
fired (I donít like the euphemism "laid off"), after
being a loyal employee for 20 years.
Loyalty isnít a
good term for describing the relationship between an employee and
an employer in an industrial organization.
When did your company ask you to take a loyalty oath?
When did your company pledge loyalty to you? I think youíre confusing terms.
Integrity, honesty, and compassion are noble attributes
that you and your employer have every right to expect, but not
defines loyalty as ďbeing faithful in allegiance to oneís
lawful sovereign or government; faithful to a private person to
whom fidelity is due; faithful to a cause, ideal or custom.Ē
Your company or any other company is neither sovereign nor
government. Nor is it
a person, a cause, an ideal, or a custom.
You and I go to
work each day, and we are expected to put out our best efforts and
use our talents to their fullest.
Perhaps we are even expected to serve above and beyond the
call of duty (or at least beyond what we feel our current pay
justifies!). In turn, we expect a fair wage, or at least an agreed wage.
That is where loyalty begins and ends; we give our service,
and the company pays us for it.
When any employee
works through a whole weekend to repair a machine so the factory
can open on Monday, this is not an act of loyalty to a
company. When an
individual or group works arduous hours to prepare a persuasive
presentation to a prospect, this is not an act of loyalty
to an employer. When
a lawyer works nights to complete a brief, it is again not
an act of loyalty to a firm.
Rather, these are acts of loyalty to ourselves, to
us as individuals who are making the sacrifices.
People work hard
and extend themselves because they expect something in return.
They expect to be paid for their efforts and eventually to
receive a promotion, a bonus, or even just a pat on the back.
I would not be
disloyal to my employer if I failed to do my best; I would be
disloyal to myself. And
if a company retained an employee in spite of mediocre performance
just because he or she has 20 years' service, supposedly out of
loyalty, it would actually be disloyal to other employees and the
Remember when you
and I worked with Ed Whatís-His-Name, who had been with the
company 10 years longer than we had and was earning ten percent
more than we were? You
and I wondered why we werenít all paid the same salary since we
were doing the same work. We questioned the fairness of a seniority system that
resulted in Edís higher rate of pay.
We never did resolve that question of fairness, but you and
I both ended up with better jobs than Ed.
So in the long run, what good did Edís loyalty do him?
Loyalty to or
from a company isnít something to give or expect. Loyalty is an act each person gives or shows to himself or
herself. When an
employee says he or she has been loyal to a company, I hear this:
"I havenít changed jobs or sought another job.
I have (without being asked) devoted my time to this
employees want to avoid the pain in cutbacks, but was this deal in
the original hiring agreement?
Did the company ever promise that "X" years of
service would ensure a job until retirement?
A while back, The
Wall Street Journal reported that a 12-year veteran with a
soft-drink company was leaving to become executive vice-president
of a competing company. Was
Mr. X disloyal for leaving his company for a better job?
Was I disloyal to our employer when I left 10 years ago?
Were you loyal because you stayed on for another 10 years?
Would someone who stayed there 40 years have been twice as
loyal as you, who were there 20?
If we must be
loyal to our employers, then any new company must be composed of
employees who were disloyal to their last employers.
After all, they left that job to work for the new company.
I've had several
employers, and I would like to think I gave to each above and
beyond the call of duty. But
I was acting out of loyalty to myself.
I was striving for advancement, for rewards, and for the
security that comes only from being valuable to my employer.
Iíve left companies to take new jobs that offered
advancement in responsibility and moneyóbut not out of an act of
disloyalty to my employer. It
was an act of loyalty to myself, to my cause, to my ideals.
None of this is
to say that long service shouldnít be recognized or protected.
But companies must be explicit in saying that long service will be
recognized or protected, and not have it as an assumed policyóan
assumption made by employees.
From my vantage point, compassion and understanding usually
arenít a part of the human resources development program.
(The term human, in industry, does not imply humane.)
find another job, Dave. And
you will succeed. But
this time, remember that what you owe to your employer is honesty,
integrity, and hard work.
Dave did find another job.
But he doesnít expect loyalty from his employer, nor did
he take an oath of loyalty to the company.
Rather, he recognized that enlightened self-interest was
the ultimate act of loyalty to both his employer and himself.
He keeps his resume current and follows up on job leads he
hears about. That is
loyalty to himself. But
he gives his employer all he can by way of performance.
No more, no less.