Loyalty in the Workplace

May 13, 2010
6 Min Read

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, loyalty is usually seen as a virtue, albeit a problematic one. It is constituted centrally by perseverance in an association to which a person has become intrinsically committed. Its paradigmatic expression is found in friendship, to which loyalty is integral, but many other relationships and associations seek to encourage it as an aspect of affiliation or membership: families expect it, organizations often demand it, and countries do what they can to foster it."

At its most basic, loyalty is a feeling, resulting from an established bond, that intertwines one person with someone or something else.

A False Sense of Loyalty

In years past, both companies and individuals welcomed blind loyalty. Even today, many people display a false sense of loyalty. According to the dictionary, loyal means unswerving in allegiance. And this just doesn’t translate well into relationships, which are often built on trust and fair give-and-take. Unwavering loyalty doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t help a mediocre company, and it doesn’t help the individual making a commitment at the expense of their own well-being. Taking a relationship for granted and labeling it as loyalty… is not loyalty.

Loyalty can come into question only when there is a quid pro quo contract – explicit or implicit – in place. For example, if someone makes an investment on your behalf, you are expected to return the gesture or risk being labeled as disloyal. But loyalty also means that you are willing to initiate such consideration, and make a personal sacrifice to strengthen a relationship. That give-and-take thing. If no such contract exists, however, and your sacrifices are not reciprocated time and time again, and you continue with that kind of relationship for any other reason than benevolence, you have a false sense of loyalty.

The New Loyalty is Practical

On the other extreme side of the spectrum of false loyalty, you may have entitlement: expecting more in return than you are willing to give. So if both extremes are destructive, where is the middle ground? Where does loyalty in the workplace fit in?

I see the balance where both parties look out for each others' best interests. But when push comes to shove, I think it is natural that the leaders of the company put the company's best interests in front of any single employee's best interest. Just as it is natural that our own well-being is placed above our companies’ well-being.

“It is unwise to think that talented individuals would be willing to forgo the rewards of owning their own firm simply to be "loyal" to someone who has no enforceable obligation to return that loyalty.  A talented and controlled professional will first look out for their self-interests, and the firm second (within the bounds of law.)  This is the right and proper way of things!  If you want more attachment from your hired help, you must make them more than at-will employees.” –William Ward in response to Mark Suster

The loyalty argument comes in when our self-interest is prioritized at the expense of another.

The way things are changing these days, loyalty to a company may very well be getting more and more outdated. Especially since “company” is sometimes a very abstract term. Perhaps you can consider loyalty to your co-workers and clients as the new loyalty… a practical loyalty that is based on our relationships. Looking at the bigger picture, you can consider loyalty to your team, your department, or a cause.

If company loyalty is truly desired, then “employers can promote company loyalty by helping people grow out of their jobs—ideally, into new ones within the company,” as Lauren Keller Johnson writes in Rethinking Company Loyalty.

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