What is happening to company loyalty?

man showing distress

Loyalty is defined as a “…a strong sense of allegiance”. I remember in my father’s day, people worked their entire life for one employer! But, nowadays…Have you noticed a change (decrease) in your sense of allegiance to your job? With companies wooing recruits with high salaries and perks, it isn’t any surprise that we’re seeing a change in how we view our employers and the allegiance we give them.

In my research, I’ve notice a significant swing in people’s sentiments and emotions toward work.

There has always been a tension between the “self” (individuals) and organizations (collected teams of people). We as individuals rely on organizations—for financial means, identity, relationships, and for overall purpose. We derive much of our value, both economically and psychologically from what we do, where we work, and how much we earn.

Organizations, likewise, rely on individuals for getting work done, for converting goods and services into revenues.

Yet, as much as we both need each other, we often find ourselves at odds with another. Employers have historically had the upper hand, and the final word on who gets promoted and who gets increase. Labor unions were one of the first successful, collective attempts to organize people to form a more cohevise unit to negotiate with employers.

But employers and individuals (employees) will never be 100% in parity, or aligned. How could they be, given somewhat competing interests.

But today, it might seem like employees are gaining some advantage. With a tight labor market, characterized by too many open positions with not enough workers, wages rise and competition over the best employees tends to keep driving up benefits, working conditions, and wages.

Is this just short-term, or will it persist for the long-run?

Well, if you’re not a sports fan, this analogy may not make as much sense. But many times, some great players spend their entire career playing for one team, and then they separate in the final few years. Maybe the coach or owner wants to bring in fresh new talent and get rid of the star player who is in, or past, their prime. Or the coach and the player are at odds over strategy. Tom Brady (the famous quarterback from the New England Patriots) who switched teams to play his last few years in a new city and state. The coach and quarterback parted for some reason, and he went on with a new team to win the NFL championship. This happens in all sports, and there are many other examples.

These analogies remind me of companies and organizations. You might be a great employee for years or even dozens of years. But then something happens, and your company turns against you, or you turn against them. You might even be escorted out of the building by security! I’ve seen this so often with people I’ve worked with and coached that it is disconcerting.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are some employees out there who have done some very bad things. And they need to be escorted out of the building. And, I’ve seen people just walk out on a job, and not even collect their final paycheck or return uniforms.

Large consulting firms have historically been really good at recognizing that employees who are leaving are really “alumni” for life. Just like a student graduating from college will forever remembered their final days at the University, employees will forever remember they’re like how they were treated the last few days of their tenure. Our alumni, our prior previous employees, can help make and improve our relationships over social media and in the community for life.

So why do companies sometimes treat employees so bad? Is this one of the contributory problems during the “great resignation”?

On one hand, the last few years might just be about allowing employees to even the playing field. In the past, companies had their pick of who to hire, and what to pay. But as demand increases, supply shrinks, and wages increase—it is the employee who gains the advantage.

Regardless, there seems to be a loyalty problem between individuals and organizations. In organizational psychology we call this a culture problem, but really it’s just modern economics. How do we survive when our organizations are only behind us for our current performance? Do one thing wrong and then you’re easily dispensable.

So if you are an employer, try to keep finding ways to make people happy, besides just compensation.

But, this article is for individuals, not employers. And, for you, I suggest a 4-prong approach:

Settle in, Lead, Adapt, or Leave

Settle In. First, we all need to consider culture and alignment (fit) as much as we do salary. What will be the working conditions be like? Are you going to be able to work remotely, or in an office? Is your team supportive, friendly, and helpful? What you make is not nearly as important as what you get out of your job, emotionally. You are also much more likely to be a top producer if you enjoy your job and the environment.

Lead. Second, see how you can use your leadership skills to make a difference in your environment. All it takes is one person to step up to change the culture. I know everybody waits for that senior manager to to do it, with the assumption “that’s what she is getting paid for”, but this is the wrong approach. Change starts with you. You can be a leader regardless of your position on an organizational chart.

Adapt. Third, after you’ve tried settling in and leading, try adapting. Try to see if it’s you that is out of sync, or if it’s really the company. Sometimes what seems wrong is really that we haven’t yet adapted to the organization’s strategy and culture. For instance I used to not like vegetables that much. But once I started thinking about them differently, I enjoyed them and see how they fit into a healthy diet. See if adaptation, without sacrificing who you are, is an option.

Leave. Lastly, if all else fails, leave. There are way too many jobs out there for you to be unhappy. Find something else. Your emotional and mental health is far more important than being employed at a position you no longer enjoy.

Let me know how you view organizational loyalty in 2022!

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