"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.

Bonfire of the Vanities #109
The 10 Spot - Shut Your Piehole Edition

13 Comments

  1. Steve L. August 2, 2005
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