Saturday, July 20, 2013

Are You a Loyal Employee? Should You Be?

What does it mean to be “loyal?”

Webster’s defines loyal as “Faithful to a cause, ideal, custom, institution, or product.” 

Companies need loyal employees to lend their talents, skills, and passion to their cause—or so we’re told. Webster’s may give us a definition of loyalty, but what does it look like in the workplace?

We think of a loyal employee as one who is willing to “go the extra mile” to advance the employer’s interests. Someone who will place her own welfare below that of the employer’s (by say, prioritizing personal obligations below work obligations), if that’s what’s needed to get the job done—vacation, sick, and personal leave balances notwithstanding. Loyal employees are punctual and put in an honest day’s (and sometimes night’s) work for an honest day’s pay. Loyal employees don’t “badmouth” the company by saying or posting things that reflect poorly on the organization. Loyal employees appreciate how the company takes care of them by providing fair wages, generous benefits, and valuable perks, such as free parking, free coffee, flexible schedules, and what have you.

Hmmm …

The other day I read a really interesting article by Theresa Welborne that questioned HR’s fixation on employment engagement as a measure of, well … anything. In the article, Welborne traces the death of corporate loyalty as fueled by layoffs and cutbacks and then writes “Employers want it all: loyalty, love and the ability to lay off (the three L’s).”

Yes, it would seem they do. But do they deserve it? And if not, is an employee foolish to give it?
One reader (“Pete”) responded to Welborn’s article by saying this:
“I find it frustrating as a new deal employee that I have to pretend to be 'engaged' to my employer. i.e. Drink the Kool-Aid. The quarterly meetings, award banquets, annual galas, and other events try to promote great corporate culture while seemingly avoiding the real binding point, ‘I will come to work so that I can influence my realm of responsibility, make a difference, and get paid.’ It is not lost on me that if I struggle or don't perform well then I will leave, willingly or otherwise. I'd like a company/manager to have a more straightforward approach to the employee/employer relationship and get rid of the ‘Employee for Life!’ facade.”

Does this employee have a terrible attitude? Or the right attitude?

What about this one? He or she responded to “Pete” by writing:

“Totally agree, unless the employee has a stake in the company's future, and vice versa, it may very well be in the employee's best interest to avoid engagement (e.g., emotional,
psychological, etc. commitment to the job)."

Welborne put it this way, “It’s time to go beyond the fairy tale of employee engagement and move to a more rigorous, business-focused approach to managing people at work.”

So back to the original question—do companies need loyal employees?

At one point in my life I would have answered “yes” without equivocation, but these days I’m not so sure. Employers do need employees to meet the obligations of their job duties, and those include being punctual and dependable, but I no longer know about the rest. I’m beginning to wonder whether it would be healthier for all involved if we accept a “new loyalty,” best viewed as a mutually agreeable transaction between two consenting parties.

“In exchange for my intellect, time, and skills, you will pay me X in cash compensation and X in noncash compensation. I will use my paid time off benefits responsibly so as not to interfere unduly with the fulfillment of my job duties, but please don’t ask me to ignore these benefits to the detriment of my family. When this agreement no longer meets my needs, I’ll seek an agreement that does.” Finally (and this is the really important part), “I won’t expect you to care about me as a person, because you can’t.”

It’s a bit soul-less, but so are many companies.

So what do you think? Should companies continue to demand love and loyalty? And if not, whatever will take its place?

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