Organisational loyalty is a general term and denotes a person’s commitment and attachment to the place they work. I was first invited to give some serious thought to workplace loyalty, when I was at a waiting lounge to board a delayed flight. Behind me, I overheard a gentleman say ‘you can’t do that; you have not even completed one year in your job. Do you know anything about loyalty?’ I laughed to myself as I awaited the answer from the other party. And out it came; ‘loyalty to my career or loyalty to the organisation?’ How smart, I thought. With curiosity, I turned around to check the two conversationalists; two gentleman-one elderly and the other probably in his mid twenties- most likely, father and son.
I then realised the wide spectrum of opinions attached to the topic and therefore, before covering this issue in an article, I turned to people around me to extract a general attitude on perceived loyalty to their organizations. Subsequent to some informal interviews with people from different age groups from both the private and government sectors, I was able to sum up the following discussion on organisational loyalty.
Most elderly employees I spoke to, felt that both employees and employers were now less loyal than before. However, they did acknowledge that times have changed too. One might say that as a result of market revolutions, the emergent organisational view is more transactional, flexible, open to renegotiation with a special focus on profits and cost, innovation, continuous improvement and added value. In opposition to this, the past form was mainly cemented on stability, security, predictability, promotions on seniority, compliance with authority, trade unions and collective representation. Another difference is how the past form advocated growth within the company or in-spiralling careers, whereas nowadays it seems that one has to take individual responsibility for one’s own career growth, be it within the organisation or outside it, whereby aiming at saleable skills and out-spirally careers.
As a result of improvements in technology, high competition, privatization, short-term contracts, outsourcing, down-sizing and restructuring, global nature of work and fluid markets leading to uncertainty, this shift in the market was inevitable in the 21st century.
Most young people I interviewed described themselves as being more loyal to their careers than to their organisations. Some elderly people and a few retired persons stated that loyalty to the organisation was all they knew of; that their personal career growth was part of their work in the organisation and that if one worked hard and remained devoted, the company would take care of them. However, the current recession has challenged this view, as many senior employees have been made redundant to cope with the downturn.
One important point to note is that loyalty at work may not mean ‘forever’. In a world where employers are struggling to promise a lifetime employment contract, it is difficult to attract employees who may stick with the organisation in the long-haul. Having said that, there are exceptions of course. Maybe, what we need is a redefinition of loyalty.
A recent research show that loyalty is giving one’s best when one is attached to a particular organisation. Loyalty to the current organisation and furthering one’s career are not always mutually exclusive and are in fact in most cases closely related. The very skills one needs to acquire for his/her career growth may also be essential for the current company. Therefore, employers can foster loyalty, by encouraging career development and helping employees to master new skills required for their progression, ideally within the same company.
One eminent economist I had a discussion with, stated that realising that one is no longer productive in the job and taking measures to either improve or to leave the company, is the best form of loyalty. What is undesirable would be to have de-motivated employees who may be present at work physically but not in terms of productivity and energy. This is especially the case when the job-dissatisfaction is chronic and contagious in a way that it affects the others around. Loyalty is also about honouring the contractual disclaimers on intellectual property, respecting the former company in terms of its corporate image, customers/clients and employees who may seem as potential for poaching.
Loyalty is a value-match. Companies could clearly communicate the vision and its expectations from the employees at the recruitment stage. Provided that the company lives up to its word, the potential employee can then check whether his/her values are congruent with that of the company. In order to balance the growth of the company and that of the employees, it is also favourable to strategically align career growth of the individuals to the goals of the company.
Limited career progression is not the only cause that hinders loyalty. Furthermore, monotonous work routines, high stress levels and dictatorial management styles are factors that can get in the way. Experts note that providing variety, calculated risk-taking and the freedom to make decisions can endanger extensive loyalty. Besides, we all know that for most employees loyalty is prompted and reinforced by personal relationships. Hence, maybe focussing on employee relations is crucial in promoting loyalty.
In reality, the old definition of organisational loyalty of lifetime commitment is no longer valid for the modern organisations. However, compromises are possible and this will solely depend on how a company behaves in terms of, its transparency in decisions, allowing the employees time for adjusting in the face of crisis, keeping them happy and secure in both good and bad times and firing only in extreme conditions.
Can we unify the values of the old and the new forms? We can, if we strive to strike a balance between the needs of employers and employees, and by bring this balance in line with the current external market environment.