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Time to Redefine Employee Loyalty

by: Janaki Rajagopalan

At its basic premise, it defines an employee who is committed to the success of his organization, and who passionately believes that working for her organization is the best and only option. On the face of it, a great situation to be in for both the employee and the organization.

But here are a few questions to tickle the ticking, thinking brain…

  • Do the indices of employee loyalty veer towards being unconditional – if so, is this a healthy virtue both for the employee and the employer?
  • Is it a fair given to expect organizations to reciprocate the longevity sentiment of their employees’ loyalty? Conversely, is it unfair if organizations do not, especially in today’s business environment?
  • Do we need to redefine employee loyalty so that it works better for both?
  • If we realistically think about employment as a reciprocal exchange (without the judgmental connotation of being mercenary on either side), would it be more beneficial to leverage associate traits of loyalty (professionalism to work and stakeholders) rather than the fuzzy term itself?
  • Would it be wiser if the specific concept of the “engaged employee” took precedence over the grand concept of the “loyal employee”?
  • Would employees better appreciate the organization’s efforts on being a strong supportive interface that helps them develop pride and professionalism towards excellence of work, clients and colleagues? And in doing so, would organizations not automatically leverage and translate employee skill and competence to revenue, profits and client retention?

Call this a sort of destructive distillation, but there seems to emerge advantages of having employees passionate about their work over those loyal or passionate to the organization. Of having a workplace where employers can be proud of holding proud employees who

  • Are driven by something they know they can do better
  • Place responsibility on their own higher standards of ethics related to quality of work
  • Have the courage of conviction to defend the quality of their individual and team’s work to raise the bar on what is just needed to be done
  • Care more about doing fabulous work and the recognition of industry peers than mere upward mobility and management recognition in the organization

Clyde Tolson & J. Edgar Hoover

In a scene in the film “J. Edgar”, Edgar Hoover tells his loyal and longtime aide Clyde Tolson that the most important thing to him is loyalty, even beyond intelligence and competence. There are lessons we learn when history decisively proves things wrong – as in Hoover’s instance. The more enduring lessons lie in creating shifts that history will laud and prove right. Time to do so?