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"If you want loyalty, get a dog"

Over the weekend, all of Boston (well, the baseball fans) were atwitter about Manny Ramirez NOT being traded away from the Red Sox. He'd repeatedly mentioned he'd like to be traded away, but once the trading deadline passed a bunch of fans were all over the radio and TV announcing that the Sox were right to not let him go, that he's a part of Boston and the Red Sox.

This got me thinking. I don't really follow sports in the least, but I have overheard people grumbling about the collapse of loyalty in sports. They recall the days when players would start their career with one team and stay there their entire career, becoming a part of that team's history. Nowadays, any star who spends more than a couple years with a franchise is a rarity.

I've noticed this in the business world, too. People used to have careers with companies. They'd spend decades with the same employer, building up their pension, and eventually retire. These days, it's predicted that anyone who spends more than a decade with the same company is a rarity.

I'm not sure if this is a cause or a symptom, but I've also noticed that a lot of companies have instituted "employee at will" clauses. As one of those employees, I know exactly what that means: my employer has a signed piece of paper from me agreeing that I can be fired at any time for any reason or no reason whatsoever, and I can quit at any time for any reason or no reason whatsoever, with no requirement of notice being given in either case.

That only comes to mind when I'm feeling exceptionally disgruntled, though. Nearly all the time, I find myself being "loyal to the point of stupidity" to the day job -- but it's because of the people I work with, and in spite of that insulting form I have to sign every year.

At the same time, we're seeing a decline in corporate ethics. Just witness Enron, Tyco, or your favorite corporate scandal.

I am starting to think they all might be connected. Could people chose to act unethically because they don't feel any loyalty or sense of obligation to their employer? And could that lack of loyalty be related to how the employer treats their employees?

I don't think it extends to the CEOs, because they usually have pretty good contracts, but again, the "short-timer" mentality might play a role. How many CEOs spend a decade or so at one company? It seems every week there's another story of a company bringing in some outsider to run things.

The odd thing is, companies don't seem to recognize that loyalty is a two-way street. They expect great dedication and commitment from their employees despite having them essentially demanding undated resignation letters.

I have felt the "at-will" sting myself. At another job a long time ago, I kept asking the boss why the schedule wasn't posted for the next week. He evaded the issue, but told me when I should show up on Monday. Then, at the last minute, he changed his mind and told me a different time. I showed up, worked my shift, noted there was still no schedule posted, and he told me when to show up on Tuesday.

Where I was fired. The schedule hadn't been posted so I wouldn't notice my absence from it. He had specific instructions to not only fire me, but to make damned sure I had no hints that it was coming. The only reason I hadn't been fired on Monday was that one other person had quit and another was sick, and they needed someone in that day.

I once had a friend who was planning on leaving his job, and was a bit miffed at the time of departure. (He had another job lined up.) I wrote his resignation letter for him, and suggested he hand it in on his last day. The letter specifically cited the "at-will" agreement, and stated that the same-day notice was fully in compliance with the terms the company had demanded. He relented, however, and gave almost a week's notice -- something I thought was overly generous.

Again, I don't know if these are causes or symptoms of the problem, but they certainly seem emblematic of it.

About the only place I've seen loyalty -- in the true sense, where both sides recognize and honor their obligations -- is in politics. For example, the Bush administration places a great deal of stock in loyalty from its members. And unlike the Clinton administration, that loyalty goes both ways -- Bush will stick up for and stand by his people who have been loyal to him long after it's become a political liability. And to date, I only know of a single tell-all book by a former member of his administration.

Yeah, sometimes loyalty can go too far -- that was a part of the problems of the Nixon administration, for example. But I think we've gone too far in the other direction.


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Comments (13)

To a certain extent, I agre... (Below threshold)
Steve L.:

To a certain extent, I agree with you, but the situation is a two-way street. You want the company to have 100% loyalty to you as long as you have the option of jumping ship as soon a s a better deal comes along. You can't have it both ways. In a sense, this is the type deal that teachers have. Districts are bound by law to emply them unless they can be fired for cause. Teachers can come and go as they please at the end of each year. Literally, they are free agents each summer, looking for the best deal.

The solution is to have employers and employees sign annual (or whatever interval) contracts that state that the Employer agrees to provide a job for a specified period and the employee agrees to not quit during that period. It would also state what conditions would lead to a breach of that contract by both sides. It would also stipulate that BOTH sides could dissolve the relationship unilaterally at the end of the contract.

In this way, both sides are protected for a year at a time. The employer would know that he could count on an employee being available for the entire time, and the employee would know that he was guaranteed work for that same interval.

I have had a similar experi... (Below threshold)

I have had a similar experience, with my most recent employer.
The company had made a decision to close their Toronto call center, and lay-off all but 4 administration staff. When word leaked out to us, that the office was closing - and all the signals were there, for a long time - They set out, on a witch-hunt, to find out who leaked the info, and proceeded to treat the rest of us like we were going to steal the silver, right up until the day of closing. My father, who had worked there for 23 years, was having his communications monitered!
Even after they finally told us they were closing, every person in that office stayed to help facilitate as smooth a transition as possible. I can understand a corporate decision, to streamline operations, but we deserved better treatment, from a company that got so many years of dedicated service.

This lack of loyalty in the... (Below threshold)
goddessoftheclassroom:

This lack of loyalty in the business world has to change, or there's going to be a major problem.

People NEED to belong, and feel that they belong; it's hard-wired into our brains. I think most employees WANT to be loyal--it makes people feel good about themselves. However, companies that exploit or ignore that loyalty contribute to the general disaffection in our society.

I also think this feeling is connected to patriotism. It's hard to feel loyalty to one's country when a person doesn't feel loyalty in his daily life.

You can blame the trial law... (Below threshold)
Jake:

You can blame the trial lawyers for being forced to sign the employee at will agreement. Suing companies for wrongful termination is a huge growth industry for the trial lawyers.

It will be much worse when medical tort reform is passed, and hundreds of thousands of lawyers are underemployed. Then you will be asked to sign an employee at will agreement every day.

Actually, "employment at wi... (Below threshold)

Actually, "employment at will" is nothing new. It has been the "default" employment relationship for centuries of Anglo-American law. Employment that came with any kind of contract was generally either for really big bucks or personal services, i.e., professional athletes, entertainers, etc. A contract was one of the attractions of early labor unions.
The notion that people have some kind of property rights in their job is a recent phenomenon. As the courts have decided that they will buy into the idea that an "employee handbook" or "company guidelines" constitutes a "contract" (despite almost never actually meeting the basic criteria for a legal contract) companies have begun spelling out the "employee at will" doctrine. And it has always been, as Steve L. says above, a two way street... you can leave any time, and they can cut you loose anytime.

About 15 years ago, ... (Below threshold)
Jake:


About 15 years ago, many large companies stopped looking upon employees as assets but as work units. I blame the MBA schools for that change. The schools taught management with a spreadsheet rather than management with a brain.

However there are many companies (mostly small and medium size) that believe that "the only way to have happy customers is to have happy employees." These are the companies that are very profitable because they have highly motivated, happy employees. The executives that run these companies are very smart.

The companies who treat their employees poorly are invariably losing money or not very profitable. It is very difficult to make money with poorly motivated employees. The executives that run these companies are very stupid.

So if you want to be a happy employee, work for the very profitable companies and avoid unprofitable companies at all costs.

Jake is right, it's unlawfu... (Below threshold)
bullwinkle:

Jake is right, it's unlawful termination suits that are causing a lot of this. I've had as many as 60 employees at a time and usually had some of the best in their trade working for me but I've had some of the worst too. The lawsuit situation has gotten so bad that if you fire someone for getting a DUI in a company vehicle they'll at least try to sue you, it happened to me. You certainly can't tell someone why you fired someone, all you can do is either confirm or deny that they worked for you and give the dates. If they got caught stealing and you mention that they sue you for preventing them from being able to get a job. Had that happen too and even though I went to court with the police reports and the former employee was still on probation and didn't have a chance of winning the suit his lawyer kept pressing it and it ended up costing me several thousand in legal fees to prove what everyone already knew. It costs around $800 to do a half-assed background check on a potential new employee, a lot more for a thorough check. When my business got down to 6 people I paid them off and retired, they had been loyal and deserved it. It's expensive to hire, expensive to fire and you can forget about training anyone, they rarely last long enough for you recover the expense. Everyone seems to think hitting the lawsuit lotto is better than actually earning a living, they never consider that they probably won't win and they end up costing the good employees raises and bonuses and in many cases their jobs. I never lost any of the suits brought against me, but losing is very expensive also. My legal expenses would have easily covered a 5% raise for everyone working for me, maybe more, and a lot of those people are out of work today because they decided to make a career out of suing rather than working.

Ooops, should say winning i... (Below threshold)
bullwinkle:

Ooops, should say winning is very expensive too.

I know of a college that fi... (Below threshold)
Jake:

I know of a college that fired an employee for selling drugs to the students. The college was sued for wrongful termination.

Bullwinkle:
You are right. Employees end up paying for these lawsuits in lost raises, paycuts and layoffs.

One fact that has often cau... (Below threshold)
TheEnigma:

One fact that has often caused me a great deal of concern, is WHY will a company allow a good employee who is performing in an excellent fashion go, and then pay a higher salary to an unknown from outside the firm.

A number of times while I was in the workforce, I was forced to find a replacement for an employee who's performance on the job was exemplary but for whom the firm would not authorize a larger salary increase. Once this employee left, I was forced to pay substantially more for a replacement that required time to become familiar with not only the firm, but the unique ways the firm handled specific functions. Often, the employee who left could have been retained for something less than the salary the replacement demanded. On more than one occasion, the replacment had to be terminated and a new replacement found.

TheEnigma;When the... (Below threshold)
Jake:

TheEnigma;

When the virtual corporation concept was a fad in the 90s, a lot of companies went to outside companies for services even though it made no sense.

I chalk it up to stupid management.

In defense (to a degree, as... (Below threshold)
-S-:

In defense (to a degree, as in, "somewhat") of CEOs, their loyalties are to their performance and to stockholders.

Thus, if another opportunity presents itself, they'll take it. Stockholders paying gargantuan millions and payouts for CEOs is the question here. I realize competition has driven up costs but today's financial packages for CEOs is obscene. Literally, obscene.

Jay, the traditional Americ... (Below threshold)
s9:

Jay, the traditional American way for employers to make it clear to workers that loyalty to the firm is required is 1) to pay them for it with a compensation plan structured to ensure their continued commitment to the contract, and 2) to require them to sign non-compete agreements binding on them when they separate.

If your employer doesn't do either of those things, then guess what? They're not planning to sweat it if you leave without notice. They'll just stop paying you and hire somebody else. If you feel any irrational emotional attachment to the idea that you should give them notice before going to work for the competition, then you are a sucker and you deserve to be screwed by the Man.




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