If you operate with the philosophy that looking after #1 is all that counts and you’ll stick with your current employer only until you think you see something better on the horizon, that’s a questionable rationale. On the other hand, blind loyalty to your employer that ignores any other considerations is going to the other extreme. Neither choice is great, and neither is likely to provide you with solid career success.
Company Loyalty vs. Focus on #1
As is often the case, you’re probably going to see a better outcome for your efforts if you position yourself somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. That is, you acknowledge that the company that pays your salary deserves a certain amount of consideration in return, which means you invest the emotional energy to produce the value you’re getting paid for. At the same time, you don’t sacrifice everything (such as close family relationships) to satisfy an employer’s expectation that you’ll be available 24×7, 365 days a year, regardless of your personal needs and well-being
If you’re at the senior management/executive team level in your career–or pushing hard to get there–you might find this a tough issue to deal with at times. Just be aware that each time you make a choice, you usually have to give up something else–in most cases, you can’t “have your cake and eat it, too.” It ties back to the concept of opportunity costs; spending your available time or money on one thing means that you don’t have it available to spend on something else.
Your best course, in many cases, is to adopt a practical approach to protecting yourself and your career at each job you hold, while not short-changing your employer.
Company Loyalty–So How Much is Too Much?
Company culture can influence expectations about performance, about what you will be expected to do versus what you might have thought you agreed to do when you took the job. If a company has a very “driven” atmosphere from the CEO on down, you might have to either toe the line or be prepared to bail (find a hopefully less demanding job elsewhere).
When you’re evaluating possible actions to take, keep in mind that your employer is a business organization, not your lifelong buddy. Even the best companies might sometimes make pragmatic decisions that run counter to your preference. The rest of them will probably exhibit a wide range of attitudes (if a company can have an attitude), all the way down to responding with “you’ve got a job, you should be grateful and just do what you’re told” to any concerns you might raise about what’s being expected of you.
An article I read by Alan Henry, titled “The Company You Work For Is Not Your Friend,” makes some good points about not counting too heavily on the company (and in particular, HR) to look out for your interests. Among other things, he maintains that HR primarily exists to protect the company, not to help you, and it shouldn’t be your first choice in seeking to remedy a troublesome situation. He also mentions the double standard that expects employees to give two weeks’ notice before leaving but allows companies to lay off employees with little or no warning.
Basically, your goal is to maintain a balance between practicing smart career management and giving full value to employers for compensation received.
The title of this post is somewhat of a trick question. When a company pays your salary, as agreed when you took the job, you probably do owe them something in return. In other words, in most cases you should deliver whatever you agreed to do in exchange for that salary.
On the other hand, what if the company expects actions that are, for example, unethical or borderline illegal? Then you’re looking at possible consequences and risks that you didn’t agree to at the outset. Such a situation merits at least some serious thought on your part and might require you to take steps that are difficult to face.
Here’s hoping you never have a job situation that puts you in that kind of spot, but we’ve probably all heard or read news reports about just such occurrences. How would you handle it if it happened to you?
Unacceptable Job Performance Demands
Ultimately, you’ll have to determine whether a demand is so unacceptable that you need to find another position. Before you reach that point, however, it would be wise to evaluate the situation carefully. For instance, can you identify possible ways to work things out so that you don’t have to accede to unacceptable job performance demands?
If you’ve done your best to work through a troublesome issue and gotten nowhere, that might be the time to start seriously looking for options outside the company–as discreetly as possible. In the meantime, you’ll want to avoid “stirring the pot” if you can, so you don’t raise a red flag in the minds of management about your plan to jump ship the moment you find a better job offer.
Among other things, be very careful about talking to anyone within the company–even someone you think you can trust. Whether or not the person is on the level and means to treat your comments as confidential, you can’t bank on that and don’t want to put your job at risk unnecessarily.
Company Loyalty Not a 2-Way Street
I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating. As far as I know, no company gives you an open-ended job guarantee or promises you they’ll give you ample notice if they decide they need or want to dispense with your services.
Maybe the best companies today do care about their employees and make a point of treating them fairly, partly because they know it’s the best way to continue attracting top performers; but those are probably the exception rather than the rule. Many companies that aren’t necessarily shady or otherwise undesirable don’t feel a real sense of loyalty to employees. As Tom Hanks’ character says in “You’ve Got Mail”: “It’s not personal; it’s business.”
When they need to trim expenses or change directions for the business in some way that leaves you on the outside, you’re expendable. In most cases, they don’t even need to give you any warning. Not only that, but if you give them the traditional two-weeks’ notice when you’re the one initiating a separation, they can just as easily walk you right out the door with no time to do more than (maybe) grab your personal effects.
So a word to the wise: Be smart about the subject of company loyalty. Do what you knowingly agreed to do and make plans to leave if the job situation takes an unexpected turn for the worst. You “owe” that to yourself.
P.S. This will be my last blog post for the next few weeks, as I’m in the midst of getting ready to make a cross-country move. I’ll get back to you when I can.
Have you ever had a job where you knocked yourself out for the company, putting in a lot of unpaid effort, only to be caught in a subsequent layoff round because your pay level was higher than the employees they kept? If so, you know that company loyalty isn’t always a two-way street.
Company Loyalty as a One-Way Street
Most, if not all, companies expect you to put in considerable effort on their behalf, respect their confidential information, protect their reputation, etc., in return for your regular paycheck. And sometimes the return they receive from you is disproportionately larger than the value of your check.
That’s part of the one-way-street picture. The other part is that too many companies consider employees expendable, a disposable resource if things start getting a little tight. It’s true that sometimes companies don’t have a choice about layoffs and other difficult actions, but that’s certainly not always the case.
Best Companies to Work For
Every year Fortune compiles its “100 Best Companies to Work For” list. While you could argue about some of their choices, based on your personal experience or on information you’ve gained from sources you respect, it’s worthwhile to take a look at the list.
Along with that, Fortune separately breaks out a list of 24 companies that are hiring. Purportedly those companies each expect to hire 1,000 people or more in the coming year.
Again, this is subject to change and to a certain degree of personal interpretation (possibly skewed one direction or another), but worth looking at when you’re planning your next career move.
Company Loyalty as a Two-Way Street
Large, small or somewhere in between, you can probably find a number of companies that respect and value their employees, provide them with a positive work environment, encourage them to grow professionally and don’t take unfair advantage of them “just because they can.”
That’s not to say your search will be easy or that you won’t hit a few bumps in the road along the way. However, I believe it’s essential to start your job search with both a positive attitude and a determination not to settle for less than the best in your employer–for as long as you can.
You will, after all, probably have to live with your choice for a while.
P.S. You might have noticed that my blog posts have been pretty sporadic lately. They’re about to get even more so, because I’m preparing for a long-awaited (and, I believe, well-deserved) vacation from work. I will be away from the computer at least from May 26 through June 9, but I’ll be thinking of you…not :).