How much loyalty do I owe my employer?

I work for a company that offers human resource management software and services. It’s a large organization (+5K employees) with a global presence, but the division I belong to is quite small (5 people) and tight-knit. Recently, I’ve been getting the feeling that my group may be eliminated altogether – probably because we don’t add much to the bottom line. Nothing official has been said, but these things aren’t hard to pick up on. I’ve asked my manager what his read on the situation is—who I love, by the way, and feel very loyal to—and he assured me he’s heard nothing. Obviously, however, he couldn’t offer any guarantees.

My circumstance is that I have a standing offer from another company for a similar position that would probably be more secure. The people there are great too. In fact, I only came in contact with them because of my current employer (much of the work I do is contracted by them). My question is: Should I take them up on their offer? It would be complicated because there’s a non-compete clause that might prevent me from working for them right away, but I guess my broader question/concern has to do with loyalty. My manager has been super supportive of my career – do I owe him my allegiance?  – Name withheld


So spoiler alert: I can’t tell you what to do here.

The way I see it, jobs are like shoes. No one can really tell you what’s fits you best. You’ll have to decide for yourself – and even then you may need some time to break it (or them) in before you really know.

Nevertheless, it’s a great question. Just how much allegiance do we owe the businesses—or managers—who employ us?

Well, for starters, this sense of ‘loyalty’ you’re feeling is actually a little self-serving – although not in a bad way. It suggests you’re getting more from your job that just a paycheck, and that, in turn, undoubtedly means you’re more motivated when your there, and more committed to your work. In that, your employer benefits. You’re likely performing at an even higher level than you might otherwise, which is in part why companies go to considerable lengths to encourage feelings of loyalty in their employees.

The mistake would be to assume that the allegiance you feel towards your employer (or manager) is somehow being reciprocated, and in equal measure.

According to this misguided calculation, loyalty equals job security, even though there’s not an employment contract in existence that explicitly states as much. This false sense of security may be further heightened if one’s allegiance is directed towards a specific person, such as manager, as opposed to the organization as a whole. Now it’s personal. How could my boss let me go when our connection is so strong?

But the fact of the matter is that most of businesses are not as loyal to us as we may come to be towards them. Nor should we expect them to be.

Sure – loyal employees such as yourself are likely performing at a higher level, and a well-managed organization will take pains to prevent you from going elsewhere. But that same organization exists in a market, and is therefore subject to competitive forces, first amongst them being the need to turn a profit. As a consequence, you can expect your employer to make relatively dispassionate choices in the pursuit of that goal – including who to lay off and when. That might sound harsh, but would you really trust them if they weren’t doing everything in their power to succeed?

So how much loyalty do you owe your employer? About as much as you owe the brand of shoes you wear, I’d argue.

As long as you’re happy with the fit, hang in there. But if you’re not, or there’s a better (or more secure) job for you somewhere else, then make the switch.

Why? Because in doing so you’re not only bettering your own circumstance, you’re improving the job market—and therefore the overall economy—as well.

You see, markets are at their most efficient when individual actors pursue their own best self-interests. This principle applies to job markets too. When consumers—in this case, job seekers—leave one job for something better, their former employers are forced to either up their game to attract someone similarly qualified and hardworking, or settle for someone not so well suited for the role and/or lower performing.

This ‘pressure’ ripples through the market. As good workers gravitate to a better jobs (or their employers go to greater lengths to keep them), vacancies are left behind them. These are filled either by other workers improving their own circumstances, or the previously unemployed who now have work. As the market realigns, the very worst jobs—those that nobody is willing to work for the wages offered—are ultimately eliminated. All of this is a net win for the economy.

Still, I understand your hesitation to make the switch.

Such decisions are often difficult, with a multitude of factors to consider, and may result in unintended consequences. Unfortunately, they’re also next to impossible to undue. You can’t know for sure if your new manager will be as supportive your current one, or this new job may not actually be more secure. You also mentioned this offer only came to you because of work you were doing for your current employer. This further complicates matters – both legally, as you recognize, and also from a perspective of ‘loyalty.’ You have a lot to consider.

It is worth pointing out, however, that another sign of a truly great (and loyal) manager/organization is a willingness to re-hire former employees should they later have second thoughts.

The footwear analogy works here as well. Customers who switch from one brand of shoe to another, only to switch back because they realize the old ones fit better usually become even more loyal to the brand.

And that too, it turns out, is good for everybody.

1 Comment

  1. SDogood

    Love this! Never would have thought about it this way…


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