Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Loyalty at Work

The baseball playoffs are going strong in the US. For the first time in some years, my favorite team is actually still alive, the San Francisco Giants. I have lived in Israel for 16 of the past 18 years, had no contact whatsoever with baseball fans here (except for a couple indecent comments from New Yorkers), and haven’t followed the sport or my team at all for almost 20 years. Yet even with all this, when I read on the news that the Giants had advanced to the final four teams, somewhere hidden away in my body, excitement started to rise, and now I find myself checking the US sports section each day on the Internet. How did I initially become a Giants fan? I grew up about one hour away from the San Francisco Bay Area, roughly equal distances to the Giants and the Oakland A’s. When I was young, my grandfather liked the Giants, so I inherited this from him. Looking back on it, I would have experienced a lot more success over the years if he had been a fan of the A’s rather than the Giants, but it was not to be. Mostly the team has caused me aggravation over the years, although to be honest they have filled many hours of my youth as a cause to be followed. I am not sure if this is the recipe for loyalty, but at least in my case, it seems to have worked.

Should companies have the ability to inspire the same amount of loyalty in a person? What does loyalty even mean in the workplace?

There was a time when people generally worked at one company, in one or more professions, for their entire working careers. Presumably employees felt a great deal of loyalty to their employers. Nowadays though, it is very rare to find a person that works for their entire career at one company. I come from the world of hi-tech, where the average amount of time at a company is probably under five years. I am sure this is less stability than in other industries, but if you do a quick look in LinkedIn you will find that the majority of people work at a number of different companies over the years.

What is the reason for the change in employment longevity at a company? In poor economic times, the employer is usually more to blame, as oftentimes layoffs abound. In better economic periods, employees many times choose to leave their companies for greener pastures, to advance their careers or at least their bank accounts.

So, what is the obligation of employees towards employers in terms of loyalty? I guess you will find a variety of different responses to this question, depending upon who you ask. In my opinion, it is certainly true that as long as you are working for a company and receiving compensation, you need to be loyal in working the hours you are required to, doing the job to the best of your ability, and not compromising your employer by relating to others information that is confidential.

I assume most people would agree with the above sentiments. There are other issues though that are much more difficult to formulate a clear opinion. For instance, once you have accepted a new position, but have not started to work, is it acceptable to notify the employer that you changed your mind? Or, how long after you have worked for an employer is it ok for you to resign? When you move to a new company, is it ok to call colleagues at your previous company to try and recruit them? After you leave a company and a previous customer/supplier contacts you without knowing you left, should you make an effort to ensure they get good service?

As you can see, I have questions, but I don’t have answers. For each of the above questions, the devil is in the detail and trying to formulate a generic loyalty pledge is problematic. Back to baseball, when the Giants made a trade with the hated Los Angeles Dodgers, I had a difficult time suddenly supporting a player that the day before I had wished a (non-painful) season/career ending injury. Or, if in the future there is an Israeli baseball team that makes it to a championship game against the San Francisco Giants (see how much creative license it is possible to take on a blog :>), I am not sure who I would root for.

Loyalty is tough in the workplace today, when you hear all of the stories of companies behaving poorly with their employees. My approach at work has been to be loyal to people rather than companies, which sometimes does lead to the same conclusion. Typically a previous company is made up of many people that I maintain a good relationship and warm feelings for, so naturally I want their company to succeed. Whatever you decide is proper for you, keep in mind that loyalty is generally a two-way street, and people will behave with you in the way you treat them.

Go Giants!


  1. I had my 30th high school reunion this last Saturday night in the Bay Area. 35 of 52 of the graduating class (boys school) showed up at a nice restaurant 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. It turns out the Giants started game 1 of the series at 5 p.m.. A bunch of the guys hung out in the bar area and watched parts of the game while chatting about old times. That is what we did 30 years ago, so it all seemed fitting. Of course major differences included we were too young for a bar back then, our belts were shorter, and the Giants did not win much. Record in 1980 was 75 wins and 86 losses finishing in fifth position. I do remember the whole roster below.

    1980 San Francisco Giants Starters
    Jack Clark
    Darrell Evans
    Larry Herndon
    Marc Hill
    Mike Ivie
    Johnnie LeMaster
    Billy North
    Rennie Stennett

    Vida Blue
    Bob Knepper
    John Montefusco
    Allen Ripley
    Ed Whitson
    Tom Griffin
    Al Holland
    Gary Lavelle
    Greg Minton

    I can't say why we are still generally loyal to the Giants. Not sure they deserve it. However, for us sitting around in a group watching the Giants it did offer us a common and continuing link to our past which we all enjoyed.

  2. My father worked for the same industrial company more than 40 years. My average is 4 (IT, HiTec). When I look for reasons, some are from Employers' side, some are cultural, and some due to change in economy, both personal and general:
    1) Employer loyalty - my father's work places was managed by the owners. When things were rough, even in the red, the owner did everything to avoid layoffs. The decision cycles were over years. This was reciprocated from employees' side. Today, corporate employers are faceless, run by numbers, they would "right size" when the profitability growth rate curve starts to flatten in one digit rates, on Quarterly basis. This is also reciprocated.

    2. Economy - My parents saved "hard cash", companies' assets were measured in the same way. We have moved to a "Leveraged economy". Companies actually spend more than they make, loan more than they have. This reflects on personal behavior, Resulting in a heartbeat difference between high standard of living to Homelessness. The main stabilizing factor is MOMENTUM. One has to keep running in order not to crash. This leaves little room for loyalty - on both ends.

    My question would be - How to break the vicious circle?