The Website and Blog of HR Author and Speaker Lori Kleiman

Is Workplace Loyalty Gone Forever?


The researchers at Wharton School of Business encourage us to reframe the thought process around workplace loyalty. Looking at the connections between why people work and how they demonstrate loyalty to their employer provides interesting findings. In this article, they address a number of reasons employees no longer take a job they expect to retire from. However, that does not diminish the loyalty they have to their employer at any point in time.

Loyalty in the workplace should be seen as a two way street. Both employers and employees have to be loyal to one another. We have become a very transient society, and employees have options. Employees have seen organizations go through hard economic times. During the recession, employees were laid off when simply because there was not a compelling business reason to retain them, regardless of the years of dedication and service they may have provided. When finances got tough, employee benefits were the first thing to be cut. Millennials grew up in a world where their parents were happily working one day – and out of a job the next.

An article in Psychology Today addresses this issue from the viewpoint of the employee. Employees have options that allow them to explore geographic areas – and from one field to another easily. We see employees thinking nothing of moving from one part of the county to another – sometimes just because they want to try something new. The ability of an employee to gain skills and credentials via web based programs allows him/her to decide he/she no longer want to be an accountant – and receive a nursing degree in a few years. The American Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2010, that the average person born in the latter years of the baby boom holds or will hold 11 jobs from age 18-44. This shouldn’t be seen as a lack of loyalty, but rather the desire of many Americans to grow and develop their own personality and skill set. Organizations can tap into this by valuing past experiences and a diverse point of view brought into the organization.

Not only has the attitude of employees changed, but the organizational responsibility has changed as well. In the late 1900’s, employers saw themselves as the long-term employer who would provide a pension, career opportunities, training etc. to make it possible for employees to work in a role until they retired. This attitude is generally gone from the organization of today. Employers are focused on identifying top talent and providing opportunities for those employees, but there is less of a focus on retaining all employees on our teams. We seem to understand that only so many people can move into the ranks of management. Organizations want to retain their top talent, others are free to move on.

In years past, organizations provided full scope of development options through in house universities. Smaller organizations had ample tolerance for the approval for training and tuition reimbursement programs for those that wanted to better themselves. Today these opportunities are rarely offered to the general employee population. Training budgets are created for the few that are identified as the future leaders of the organization without opportunities for those at the lower or less visible levels.

Loyalty is not gone, but the goals and values of both organizations and employees have changed. We no longer feel compelled to work with those employees that are not seen as productive or engaged, and HR is focusing time and energy on the employees they see as the crucial components of future success. That can be viewed as a very positive outcome when the right lens is used!

Photo by Enrique Burgos used under the following license.

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