Understanding the impact of loyalty

What ideas spring to mind when you think of the word loyalty? What does it mean to you?

Would you show loyalty to your family and friends? Support them when they need you and be there for them? Have their backs and act in their interests? Would you expect the same level of loyalty back? If we don’t, we can get upset, even hurt, and it can damage the trust we have in that person. Loyalty is an integral part of forming lasting relationships.

We have examples of loyalty everywhere – friends, family, pets. What about employers? I believe it must be a tricky time for employment relationships just now as there’s so much uncertainty and turmoil in the world of work. In my personal blog, I look at an example of exceptional loyalty shown by a pet dog, but here, I want to look at the other end of the scale, and how loyalty or a lack of it, can impact on the employment relationship.

In my personal blog I have talked previously about the psychological contract, and how, for it to be healthy, the expectations of both the employer and employee need to be met. For good employers, they will always try to look for ways to create an environment that engages employees, where those employees are willing to go that extra mile and we have a balanced psychological contract. However, what happens when the skills are tipped in one direction or the other? I believe this can be the case sometimes with loyalty. Employers expect, possibly even demand, absolute loyalty from their workforce and if its felt you’re not a loyal, committed, employee then, depending on circumstances, you could find your performance and behavior challenged, possibly experience some form of performance management processes or even disciplinary action or dismissal. But what happens when they can’t return the favour? With the best will in the world, they may wish to show loyalty to their staff, but ultimately management, our employers, need to make decisions in the interests of the organisation, including survival, including letting some staff go/make redundancies and therefore are unable to give the same loyalty that they seek.

Our employers look to us to be loyal to the organisation, to show commitment and work hard for them but at a time when the psychological contract is under threat, they cannot always guarantee to show loyalty to us. They cannot always afford to pay the salary increases being sought nor, in difficult financial times, can they guarantee job security. I’m sure good employers would prefer not to be dealing with redundancies, to show loyalty to everyone, But by making some painful decisions they can protect the organisation from hopefully needing to make worse decisions further down the line. It could be argued that by letting some staff go, they are safeguarding the employment of those remaining. That being the case, loyalty is important. Employers need to be aware that those surviving redundancy processes will look at how those leaving the organisation were treated – were they treated sensitively, with compassion and understanding, with dignity. If employers want the survivors to be loyal, they need to earn it. The survivors need to trust their employers, that in their turn, they will be treated fairly.

In the early 1990s I worked for a law firm in Glasgow who were, like other organisations, struggling with a recession. However, how they handled it was to make minimum cuts, but the situation developed that at about 4 – 4:30 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, we’d see the office manager wandering around, take someone into his office and make them redundant. This happened for weeks on end. No one fell safe; we were all on edge, could I be next, and seeing the office manager on a Friday became a moment of dread, and then relief if he didn’t talk to you.

That situation has always stuck with me, probably contributing to my interest in HR. Leading me to look for a better way to do things, a better way to treat people and look after the business too. There was a definite lack of loyalty, people were not treated with dignity or any compassion and they got little loyalty from the surviving employees. Ultimately I too, was made redundant by this employer.

I wrote previously on my own blog about quiet quitting. I fear if the psychological contract is damaged because of the lack of loyalty and a breakdown in trust we may see instances of quiet qutting increasing.

I would imagine many people would be able to relate to what I’m focusing on here today. How do you feel about the expectation of employers on us in terms of loyalty and commitment? I look forward to reading your thoughts in the comments section.

Don’t forget to check out my story looking at the other side of loyalty on my personal blog; for a real feel good story.

37 thoughts on “Understanding the impact of loyalty

  1. I entered the workforce world loyal. Learned it is not a balanced environment. I witnessed discrimination , predatory business practices, unpaid salary or commission, and retaliation.25 cent raises when you made company millions. Loyalty meant being blacklisted in future employment. Know your worth, go where you are compensated fairly, start your own company. Loyalty does not exist in the workforce

  2. Loyalty at working places is purely based on give and take philosophy.
    It’s next to impossible to demand loyalty from anybody.
    It’s very rare to see one sticking to loyalty.
    We can’t expect loyalty when we are unable to take care of subordinates.
    Similarly subordinates are always looking for better opportunities when they think, their needs are not satisfied.
    Better to forget the usage of ‘loyalty’ in the workplace.
    “In a cutthroat corporate culture, loyalty is a casualty of ambition.” Unknown

    1. I think that’s a fair assessment Philo. Regrettably it doesn’t stop employers seeking it

  3. Your law firm experience sounds horrible. Death by a hundred cuts. I get trying to make it minimal, but having it happen every week would obviously lead to doubt and fear. I get that businesses is cyclical, but I find often that businesses cause their own problems with the way they go about layoffs. There is a definite good and bad way. The smart way starts with transparency, honesty, and openness with employees.

    1. So true Brian. The very things that make it ‘easier’ are those which companies and managers fear, so they end up making things worse and sabotage their relationships with their workforces

    2. Wow, you said it so well, Brian. Death by a hundred cuts. Awful. And I agree with the better approach – transparency, honesty, and openness. Such an interesting post on a relevant question for the workforce these days, Brenda!

  4. I don’t like the concept of quiet quitting. It feels like theft and deception to me: taking money from someone without putting in an honest effort. My past employer didn’t always treat me well, but at least I know I tried my best. They don’t have to live with me, but I have to live with myself every day.

    1. Thanks for sharing your opinion. You’re right, some of the drivers for how much effort we exert are also down to our own personality/nature. I can understand that if you feel unappreciated and undervalued, you may make less of an effort, but if that we’re me, I’d also be looking to quit and change jobs

      1. Right. Having a 401k is a blessing as it helps workers to be more mobile. I just snuck under the pension deadline. I had to stay, although was unhappy, because I would not get my full pension. Am so much healthier now since I left that position. Have a wonderful month of July.

      2. You too. Imnot entirely sure what 401k is (I feel I should but I’m in the UK) but yes, sometimes we just need to escape bad and toxic environments

      3. Ah ok. We have the same idea here too but employers contributions can vary quite a bit from employer to employer, but there is a legal minimum requirement

  5. Years ago I worked in a law firm similar to the one where you worked. Bad memories. Until lately I’d not thought about that experience as being based on loyalty, or the lack thereof, but with the term “quiet quitting” in the news I’ve been musing on the way loyalty is twofold. Treat me well, I’ll do the same toward you. But treat me poorly, and I’m gone, preferably literally but figuratively if need be.

    1. I always found it amusing that law firms seem to be on the edges of the law, pushing the boundaries. It’s as if they don’t think they’ll be challenged

  6. Loyalty may depend on the type of company. Is it a corporate giant focused on the bottom line? Or is it is a small, family-owned business, or something in between? The managing partner in a large law firm where I was in HR once told me that “Employers don’t want loyalty because it makes them feel obligated.” That was over a half a century ago—clearly, that statement left a lasting impression.

    1. I think thats very true about the type and size of the organisation, Julia. I wonder how much attitudes have changed in those intervening years, but I think law firms, from my experience, have always been slow to adapt. Thanks for sharing your insight and experience

      1. What a good question, Brenda. How much have attitudes changed? The declining values of our society has seeped into every corner of life, and that’s very sad. But the eternal optimist in me keeps looking for the light—I know it’s out there somewhere! 😊

  7. Even in these days of labour shortages, too many employers expect their employees to sell their soul to the detriment of their health and family relationships. I consider myself a loyal person but, when it comes to work, loyalty means giving it my best in the hours they pay me for and ultimately putting my family and my health first. That’s all any employer has a right to expect, in my opinion.

    1. Thanks Michelle. You’d think they’d realise helping employees to find that balance and help them be fit for work would be in their interests, but sometimes they’re only focused on their needs. Thanks for your thoughts on this Michelle

  8. Great post, Brenda. When I worked, I strived to be a loyal employee even if I didn’t always agree with how things were being done, etc. Unfortunately, the “loyalty” was not reciprocated in a couple of companies I worked for, so I had to leave.

  9. My former company put a gun to our heads and said, sign this new significantly reduced contract or be fired. This happened in the early days of covid when we had nowhere else to go. Of course they were in a tricky situation but the way they went about it was disgusting. Now that same company has seen a huge exodus of pilots that included me. They are trying to aggressively hire but have a massive retention problem. Not that many people want to fly for them anymore. This was once considered to be the world’s best airline. Loyalty is very much a two way street. Great post Brenda. Glad to have you back! 🙏

  10. My experience with loyalty in my last career was that the company (school admin in this case) expected you to go above and beyond for the cause, but when you faltered due to massive workload, sickness or burnout, they showed little compassion or desire to help.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Todd. Regrettably I think your experience is way too common.

      1. sometimes I’m glad I just teach HR rather than deal with the challenges in practice.

  11. I’ve been very blessed with my employers throughout my different jobs. The job I’m currently working changed hands March 1 with no warning to any of us. It was quite the shock, and a huge adjustment (for me) to transfer loyalty from the previous owner/friend to the current owner/fast-becoming-friend. Its been quite the smooth adventure!

    1. I’m glad it’s worked well for you Dawn. Sometimes when change is sudden, it can cause lots of resentment and that gets fed-forward to the new management team etc. I’m glad that doesn’t seem to have happened

    1. It was tough and I’m glad I’ve never been in a similar situation since. That level of uncertainty isn’t good for anyone

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