Monday, August 3, 2009

Has Workplace Loyalty Gone to the Dogs?

Loyalty in the workplace isn't something you hear much about these days. Employees are bruised and battered (at least psychologically and financially) by companies who have sacked them, forced them to take unpaid leave and slashed pensions and medical benefits. It's no wonder that workers may contend that the only loyalty in their lives right now comes from the family dog.

That's why I was interested when I heard that we may actually NEED loyalty in the workplace in order to be happy. Here's the story I did on the subject for my Gannett column:

If you’re miserable at work these days, don’t blame your employer. Blame your lack of loyalty.

“After all these layoffs, people like to say that they’re loyal to themselves, not an employer,” says Timothy Keiningham. “But the problem with that is that it’s not a virtue to be loyal to yourself.”

Keiningham, a loyalty guru, says that unless you have a sense of loyalty to the people you work with and what you’re doing then you are likely to be unhappy, no matter how much you’re getting paid.

Further, this lack of loyalty begins to seep into other parts of our life – we may see it start to adversely impact our personal relationships, our communities and even our governments.

The problem, he says, is that right now worker loyalty is dropping – little surprise with unemployment expected to reach 10 percent and the exposure of outrageous executive compensation packages. But that declining loyalty has led to some real bottom-line consequences for companies: According to a loyalty survey by Leadership IQ late last year, 74 percent of those who “survived” a layoff said their productivity had dropped, with 64 percent saying that co-worker productivity had also declined.

So, at a time when companies need workers to be their most focused and their most productive, they instead are confronting a cynical labor force that is less inclined than ever to give them their full effort. Right now, Keiningham says that less than 30 percent of U.S. employees say they are loyal to their company.

“When you’re not loyal to your employer, you’re more just like a hostage,” he says. “Employees who are not loyal are thinking about when they can leave. They’re not improving their productivity. They’re not giving an employer their best, most innovative ideas – because when they leave, they plan on taking those ideas with them.”

In his book with Lerzan Aksoy, “Why Loyalty Matters,” (Benbella, $24.95), Keiningham says that loyalty has not just recently taken a hit with the latest recession – workers and companies have been at odds for a long time when it comes to creating good relationships that breed loyalty among managers and among co-workers.

For example, the authors use the example of former Scott Paper CEO Al Dunlap’s conversation with an employee who told Dunlap he had worked for the company for 30 years. Dunlap’s response: “Why would you stay with a company for 30 years?”

Those kind of management blunders continue today, Keiningham says.

“Mangers right now need to be upfront about how much it hurts to lay people off,” he says. “They need to explain why things are happening. They need to share the credit religiously with the people that are there. They need to take 20 seconds and specifically thank someone for what they’re doing. We must understand that this lack of loyalty is our own fault.”

At the same time, Aksoy says workers need to see how their own behavior impacts their loyalty – and their happiness on the job. Right now, fewer than 1 in 20 workers invests time in others at work.

Aksoy says that studies show that people often believe they are more loyal to colleagues at work, than those co-workers are to them. “Basically, people are always putting the blame on others,” she says. “Individuals need to do a self-assessment and determine their level of loyalty. How are they really connecting? What is their relationship DNA?”

In the book, the authors outline this relationship DNA by looking at various “styles” such as someone who is high in empathy. In that case, this person may win the “admiration and affection” of others, but such a nature also may be a burden to them and make them “feel that others inadvertently take advantage… by consistently seeking” advice and help.

“While there will be others who possess relationship style that’s similar to ours, no one is exactly like us. In fact, we are able to build strong, loyal relationships with one another precisely because each of us is different. It is our differences that allow us to enrich one another’s lives,” the authors say.

Notes Keiningham: “Loyalty is a lot like love. When you get jilted, you can’t just give up.”

Do you think workers will become loyal to their employers again?


Scot Herrick said...

"says that unless you have a sense of loyalty to the people you work with and what you’re doing then you are likely to be unhappy, no matter how much you’re getting paid.'

That is not loyalty to the corporation or employer. It is loyalty to the people you work with, something completely different than loyalty to your employer.

Given the layoffs, the flat income increases over the last 10 years, and increasing outsourcing, why would anyone be loyal to a company?

If we believe all the pundits, you will network your way to your next job. That requires loyalty to the people you work with, not a company.

Anita said...

I think it will be interesting to see what the future holds. Can you be loyal to a manager whose job it was to lay you off? Can you be loyal to the co-workers who survived the layoffs? And what about the companies that did everything they could to keep the doors open but succumbed to market pressures? Do they deserve loyalty?
Can you really separate the "company" and the "people" in all instances? It will be interesting, as I said, to see how this all plays out. Thanks for your comments...really adds some insight to this topic.

Wally Bock said...

Loyalty is the travelling companion of trust. And trust is built slowly. It's also fragile and can be destroyed quickly. In the workplace, most of time, loyalty disappears because the company didn't keep commitments or treated workers like parts instead of people.

I wonder, too, if the loyalty we're discussing isn't to the company at all. It seems to me more likely to be to others on our team.

Anita said...

I think you express some important points here: trust is easily broken, and it takes time to build. A tough environment for something that is so important to success -- and yet many companies continue to make the same mistakes, don't they?

Unknown said...

I think we have to look at the sources of loyalty. Blind loyalty due to being thankful for having a job etc is long gone. I do think loyalty can be engendered if staff are engaged with their roles. I think companies should focus on ensuring that roles and their content engender interest, committment and thus loyalty, rather than trying to create loyalty to the company itself. That's naive. You can check out more views at

Anita said...

Good point. I think you're right: The way to gain loyalty is through honesty and transparency. Doing it any other way just breeds contempt and disloyalty.

Kareem said...

There definitly is something said about workoplace loyalty. If you go into work and feel that you can not trust or confide in anyone, there is a certian feeling of isoloation that you experience which is never good for your work. Great post! I tweeted this to all my friends this morning.

Anita said...

A "sense of isolation" is a great description, and one I think a lot of people could identify with. Thanks also for the tweet!

Joyce Weiss said...

Employers and employees need to discuss the loyalty issue. There is so much not being discussed at work such as trust and expectations from all sides. If employee engagement or loyalty is missing at work, it is up to the team to discuss these things.

Anita said...

I think there is a lot of fear when it comes to talking about these issues because everyone is just sort of "hunkering down" and trying not to make waves. But that sort of isolation only makes matters worse when you're trying to develop a strong team. Thanks for your comments.

Scot Herrick said...


I think you can be loyal to your manager who also is the person who lays you off. You have a working relationship and, if it's a good one, a layoff is something that happens in the process.

As for your coworkers, absolutely, you can be loyal to them; they may have a worse time by staying after a layoff than you do finding a new job!

And the "company" that did everything to keep the doors open -- that's not accurate. Managers did something to keep the doors open or not. People make the decisions about the direction of companies.

Should I be loyal to incompetent managers that drove Washington Mutual into the ground through poor decisions? Or to the managers at Lehman who blew the company up? Or to the managers who drove Enron into spectacular bankruptcy?

Or should I be loyal to the managers at HP that laid off all those people a couple years ago and now are not having to because the new management team knows how to run the business?

I know which one I would pick.

All of these are good questions; I think my original point was this: people run companies. So there is no "company loyalty" because there is no "company" making decisions.

People make decisions, not companies. So to be blindly loyal to a "company" means you are ignoring the actual people making the decisions.

The more interesting question to me is "to whom should you be loyal to in a company and why?"

It is a good subject and one, I think, that needs talking about. The age of lifelong employment with a company is gone, yet we cling to the idea that we should be loyal to a company.

If we are continually changing jobs every X number of years, wouldn't it make sense to be loyal to people that we want to work with and then work with them?

Anita said...

When I was a senior in college and my dad was 10 months from retirement, he was laid off, as were 900 other people at the refinery in my small town. I watched him work 12-14 hours days in a gas station for years after that. I managed to get a scholarship for that last year, but things were difficult for my parents for a long time. So, when you talk about loyalty, I know exactly what you're saying. As someone who was once demoted in an e-mail, I REALLY know what you're saying. I know that a company/manager/people are different beasts, but I'm not sure a lot of people see that difference, do you?

Scot Herrick said...

Great question -- I don't know the answer. So I asked about it on Cube Rules in a post, referencing this one.