Loyalty is an overused and misunderstood concept when it
concerns employees and employers. A loyalist might be considered someone
without a mind of his/her own; someone who blindly “stands by her man”. In a
corporate context, loyalty is borne of a psychological contract that the
employee and employer engage in whereby it is understood that the former will
be “loyal” to the latter in exchange for monetary, social or ego gratification.
But is this really loyalty in the deepest sense? True loyalty is unconditional
and not fettered by caveats . That rarely occurs in large corporations (other than within the Enrons of the world).
We are constantly struggling with the loyalty “troika”. Loyalty to self, to the organization
and to one’s profession very often manifests in inner turmoil when one is pitted against the other. There are few of us
with any experience that haven’t found ourselves in this dilemma at least once
in our working lives. For example, early in my career I worked as the chief
administrator with a small family-owned manufacturing firm. At the time I
really didn’t consider that I had a “profession” as such. It was there that I
had the luxury of being true to my ideals and values – not having a family to
support or debts to service. And so I was able to quit after being reprimanded
by the boss for providing information to a government inspector who showed up
unannounced. I thought I was doing the right thing – but obviously not! Had I
remained, I might have taken over the company and instilled it with values of
integrity and a culture of fairness. (That’s my fairy-tale and I’m sticking to
it!) Clearly my loyalty was to my self-perception; not to the owner or his company.
But self-perception changes and evolves.
Would I have quit given the same situation today with a
family to support and mountains of debt?
If I didn’t quit, it would be a result of economic pressures and the
realities of feeding a family. Basic existence needs might trump anything else.
On the other hand, my concern for losing my professional designation (as a Certified
Management Consultant) and thus jeopardizing my future, might be the overriding
factor in deciding to quit. In any event, self-preservation and risk-management
would trump loyalty. Or, wait a minute; isn’t that what I implied corporate
loyalty is all about. Doesn’t the psychological contract have self-preservation
as its foundation?
Maybe loyalty really has no place in corporate lingo given
that it is a human not a corporate
phenomenon. With respect to the corporate context, perhaps we’d all be better
off if we were open and honest about
where our loyalties really lay. Corporations can learn a great deal about how to engender loyalty from the hundreds of thousands of small businesses and independent entrepreneurs in the world. People in those situations know that loyalty to others and healthy psychological contracts begin with being true to one’s self. How many people in large global monoliths can claim that?
Ultimately, it’s all about balancing the “troika”. What do YOU think?