The Insidious Myth of Loyalty

Loyalty is a presumed virtue that has bugged me for decades. In dogs, I will concede it really is a virtue. In certain dull-witted presidents, it’s one among many serious flaws. Generally, among humans, I regard it as a vice or perhaps some form of neurosis. Within the context of advertising, it is something advertisers try to generate toward their brands, and the existence of this type of loyalty continues to be debated.

In the world of business, on the other hand, there simply is no such thing as loyalty, at least not insofar as loyalty is reciprocal. Employees may feel some misplaced sense of loyalty to their employer, but employers, by their nature as essentially profit-generating entities, cannot be loyal to their employees. It’s too costly. Once an employee comes to realize this, that misplaced feeling of loyalty vanishes, or at least it should.

What is it, I’ve often wondered, that distinguishes loyalty from so many of its synonyms, like faithfulness, devotion and steadfastness? I think loyalty is unique in implying a certain blindness or active disregard for circumstances. It is beyond the bounds of reason. Like with dogs.

When loyalty comes into play, it’s always in the face of some reason not to be. Some adverse circumstance, some problem that the person or institution to which you’re loyal is associated with, that, if not for loyalty, would be a reason to distance yourself or repudiate that person or institution.

When an employee leaves a company, especially if the company has treated him well, and more especially, if his/her departure creates a problem for that company, that employee is often characterized as being disloyal. This is the height of disingenuity.

Loyalty, expected of every employee, never seems to be returned by management. When an organization does stand by an employee, it’s always because there is some corporate self-interest being served. Nothing wrong with that. But then, to condemn an employee for acting out of this same self-interest by leaving in pursuit of some other opportunity, is beyond hypocrisy.

So, if your creative director, or his/her boss ever tries to guilt you into pulling that all-nighter, or staying with the agency or whatever, by playing the loyalty card, please feel comfortable disregarding this cheap ploy.

Finally, do not confuse loyalty with commitment, which is a more appropriate emotion to feel toward your employer, as it carries no moral baggage and assumes no reciprocity.

12 comments:

bendango said...

"...but employers, by their nature as essentially profit-generating entities, cannot be loyal to their employees. It’s too costly."

Loyalty is driven by an emotional recognition of how something or someone makes them feel. While the business, existing as an abstract non-tangible entity, cannot be loyal to its employees, the people that comprise the business certainly can. I know how much I like/dislike my coworkers, boss, custodian by how they make me feel, not because the company outperformed earnings estimates.

Which is why I submit that it is too costly for businesses not to encourage and instill genuine loyalty among its employees.

Which is (theoretically) costlier: knowing your employees and fulfilling their unique individual needs, or absorbing the costly expenses of turnover, training and inconsistent quality of service/product (which in turn leads to diminished customer loyalty, etc.)?

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