advice/perspective on jobs, work and management

How much loyalty do I owe my employer?

I work for a global professional services company. It’s a large organization (+5K people), but the division I belong to is quite small (5 people) and tight-knit.

      Recently, I’ve gotten the feeling that my group may be eliminated – 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 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 though, he couldn’t offer any guarantees. My circumstance is that I have a standing offer from another company for a position that would probably be more secure. The people there are great too; in fact, I only came in contact with them through of my current employer (much of the work I do is contracted by this organization). 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 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 decide for you – only you know what fits you best. And even then it may take a little 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?

Of course, this sense of “loyalty” you describe feeling towards your manager is a good thing. It implies you’re getting more than just a paycheck from your employer – that there’s something you genuinely enjoy about about your current position, and working with your manager. That likely means you’re doing better work too. You’re probably more motivated, more committed to your work, and performing at an even higher level than you might otherwise be – which of course benefits your employer. Indeed, this is why businesses go to such great lengths to encourage feelings of loyalty from their staff.

But this sense of devotion can be a little misleading too. It would be mistake, for instance, to presume that the allegiance you feel towards your employer is somehow being reciprocated, and in equal measure. According to this misguided calculation, loyalty equals job security, even though there isn’t an employment contract in existence that explicitly states as much. This feeling may be further heightened if it is directed towards a specific person, such as a manager, as opposed to the organization more generally. Now it’s personal. How could my boss let me go when our connection is so strong?

But of course, the businesses we work for are not as loyal to us we might like them to be – nor is this something we should expect.

Again, dedicated employees such as yourself typically perform at a much higher level than their less devoted counterparts, so a well-managed organization will take pains to prevent you from going elsewhere. But that same organization exists in a competitive marketplace, and is subject to competitive forces. First amongst those is the need to turn a profit. As a result, 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 your company if it wasn’t doing everything in its power to stay in business?

So how much loyalty do you owe your manager?

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 by doing so you’re not only bettering your own circumstances, you actually improve the job market—and thus the overall economy—as well.

You see, markets are at their most efficient when individual actors pursue their own best self-interests, as you probably well know. This principle applies to the job market 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 a similarly qualified/hardworking employee, or settle for someone not so industrious, or more poorly suited for the role.

This “pressure” ripples through the market. As the best workers gravitate to the best jobs (or their employers go to greater lengths to keep them), the vacancies they leave in their wake are either filled by not-quite-so-outstanding workers improving their own circumstances, or the previously unemployed. As the market realigns, jobs in general improve, more people find work, while the very worst jobs—that is, those that nobody is willing to work for the wages offered, or those with the organizations that most struggle to remain profitable—are eliminated. All of this is a net win for the broader economy.

Still, I understand your hesitation to make the switch.

These decisions are difficult, with a multitude of factors to consider. You can’t know for sure if your new manager will be as supportive as your current one, for example, or whether this new position will be more secure. And should you choose to leave, your decision may well be impossible to undue. You 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 indeed have a lot to consider.

It is worth pointing out, however, that another sign of a truly great 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 actually fit better, usually become even more loyal to the brand.

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


  1. SDogood

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

  2. Jim H

    “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 a similarly qualified/hardworking employee” – great point!

    I had the good fortune earlier in my career of always having good bosses who had my back and rewarded my dedication with good raises and bonuses. Later, however, when the environment became much more political, with frequent mid-level manager turnover did I realize how my earlier experience was not the best teacher. In other words, the person you are loyal to today can suddenly be replaced by a miserable manager who doesn’t warrant an ounce of loyalty. On the other hand, if you’re stuck in a seemingly impossible situation, don’t forget that too can change overnight.

    Ultimately, as you advise, carefully weighing the pros and cons (and bouncing your analysis off others too), is the best approach to weighing and comparing job options.

    Great post

    • Derek Steel

      This may be a small quibble, but referring to the title of the article, I do not believe you “owe” any kind of loyalty. You simply may choose to bestow it, or not, for the reasons discussed in the article. Your employer should strive to earn your loyalty, but even then it’s up to you whether or not you give it, because loyalty is not something that is ever covered in the employment contract itself. Items that are owed are clearly outlined in the employment contract, and perhaps employee handbook, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen those documents include loyalty.


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