Loyalty in the days of corporate infidelity

Sirajuddin Aziz
September 02, 2019

This subject attracts great amount of attention, particularly from the board, whenever any human resource (HR) related presentation is made. So much has been written upon the subject -in fact, on these pages, I have also written more than once about loyalty at work place. So, what’s new?

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This subject attracts great amount of attention, particularly from the board, whenever any human resource (HR) related presentation is made. So much has been written upon the subject -in fact, on these pages, I have also written more than once about loyalty at work place. So, what’s new?

In the current day and age of severely challenging economic conditions, it is the growing restlessness of both the employers and the employees that has prompted me to write this piece in a slightly different stream of thought, based on experience and discussions. The idea is to seek definition of loyalty and to highlight how badly it is misunderstood.

Loyalty loosely encompasses the following: allegiance, obedience, faithfulness, fidelity, commitment, devotion and bond. Loyalty is not submission; neither it is to lie on the back and take it, as it comes; nor does it mean succumbing to any and all of the idiosyncrasies of the senior management. Showing loyalty to whipping is no loyalty, but an outright surrender of the self. Dogs are loyal too, so are most pets. An employee cannot be expected to be either of them.

Just as patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, so is loyalty a refuge, a smoke-screen and a facade, for both the employee and the employer. Each one of them uses it, for their own advantage at a time deemed to be most opportune, from either’s standpoint. The timing is determined, for its use, “selfishly”, by both.

Faithfulness and devotion is loyalty; faithfulness to commitments made and given, adherence to values and fidelity to the organisation. It is about sticking in good times and bad times. Loyalty is reliability that is akin to say brand loyalty, where a preference is exercised over other products of similar quality and nature.

Loyalty is to grow the company with devotion, sincerity and hard work. Loyalty is pride in work and organisation. Doing a job well, is also loyalty. It is an imposing obligation. It is a matter of allegiance towards one’s vows, objectives, and commitments.

Mistakenly, however, it is at times perceived that loyalty means that the staff must consider, regardless of changing market and fortunes, to remain in the organisation is in their interest -nay, for better prospects, if any worker seeks alternative job opportunities, that quest is no reflection of any disloyalty to the institution.

Loyalty is a two-way street. It is not possible to expect employees to be loyal if the corporate thinking is to see how to, with each policy and its amendments, hoodwink the staff. Deceitful organisations, and they are aplenty, where the deeds and words are on opposite poles; and organisations like these should have zero expectations of loyalty even in good times, let alone bad times.

For organisations that are caring and demonstrate through action that the well-being of the workforce, in all its manifestations, is at the center of their policymaking, have a right to demand and expect employees’ loyalty. In such organisations, if the employee’s behavior is deficient in devotion and productivity, that surely is a case of corporate “disloyalty”. Emotional loyalty that has at its base a deep sense of attachment to the organisation, is a good thing to have, only if it is not exploited against the devoted staff, who believe they are obsessively attached. Cognitive loyalty is based on rationality. It must be regularly assessed by both the employee and the employer -Is a job transactional loyalty or emotional loyalty? Employers/organisation would prefer less of those who subscribe to transactional loyalty -they would demand ‘from here to the cemetery’! But it is also true, that even the best of organisations, especially when the chips are down, despatch many to the corporate cemetery, prematurely … much earlier than expected.

This is done under the guise of right-sizing, down-sizing, Golden (?) handshakes or even a mere handshake. Looking for alternative opportunity is a right. Legally speaking, no employee can be fired, for just this reason. If any organisation does take such action, the employer has within its means to sack any person, by way of a contractual clause, without assigning specifically, the reason of disengagement. Here, I am not referring to any specific laws or labour laws that may be in place, to protect both the employers and the employees.

Assessing loyalty is most difficult, because it is anchored largely, in the arena of the non-quantifiable. However, managers can use some yardstick like: an officer’s showing interest in reaching out to enable his/her colleagues to succeed or vice verca; the team members’ exhibiting the trait of relying on each other’s strength for improved performance or otherwise. Moreover one should also watch out and ensure that favoritism is generally abhorred; high standards are pursued; there is attention towards creating meaningfulness to assignment handed out to colleagues; and that the employees show grit to firmly support the organisation when things go wry or wrong. All these go towards demonstration and possession of the element of loyalty.

If any survey is to be undertaken, most employees would say they are loyal but the organisation is not. Giving value by being with the employees, both within and outside, the organisation creates loyalty. No person leaves the organisation. That situation is rare. It is always invariably the manager, who through his/her actions provokes departure of colleagues. The behavior is not one of respect and care. It is bound to lead employees to look for alternative employment. Can loyalty be bought? Yes, when the organisation aids an employee outside the given framework -this is done to benefit a few and the select.

In this manner a lifelong commitment and allegiance is the trade off -this in my personal view is outright a cheap-tactic to induce, “corporate slavery”. A corporate slave’s self-esteem overtime ebbs to its lowest two of its direct consequences are a loss of interest and low productivity. The organisation should do a reality check when faced with high rates of attrition to see if it is because employees have become disloyal or is it the institution that has become disloyal towards them.

The implicit element of being rewarded for loyalty is also losing its place in management. There is a declining reciprocity between the organisation and its workforce. I believe any person who badmouths the organisation after saying good-bye to it, is the “most disloyal individual”. Loyalty is dead, trade off is alive. That is a millennial’s take on loyalty to the institution – at least, most of them think that way; only a few say it blatantly.

The writer is a senior banker and freelance columnist

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