The Price of Loyalty


Over the last few months I have had a number of conversations with people who are feeling disengaged at work. They are unhappy, their performance is suffering and they feel stuck. I was surprised to learn that, despite these feelings, these people have also recently turned down excellent job offers that would have them leave their current situation, which is what they thought they wanted. Now, they are living in a place of regret that they turned it down.

When asked what is holding them back from leaving and making a change, I get the same answer: they are staying because they feel loyal. Loyal to the company, the team and the work. They have a bunch of reasons why they feel loyal and each and every one of them comes at a price.

Reasons like:

“This place has been my home for a very long time and I really enjoy the people I work with.”

“This company really took care of me during a difficult time in my life and I owe them.”

“I am the only one who knows how to this job and I don’t want to leave them in the lurch.”

“I think my manager will be really mad if I leave and he won’t give me a good reference.”

So, they stay and their performance suffers, their good reference flies out the window and the company starts to wish the employee would leave and/or starts thinking about making the change for them.

In some cases, if the employee has turned down a better offer along the way, then the employer doesn’t stand a chance of meeting the employee’s new set of expectations.

At the end of the day, no one is happy.

As an HR professional, seeing this happen creates a conundrum for me. I am often looking for ways to build employee loyalty. From an HR perspective, loyalty is a contributor to retention, which is always a goal. But… is loyalty helpful?

Does loyalty engender the kind of employee you want on your team? What if loyalty is creating employees who are only staying out of obligation and not out of passion for the work? What if loyalty is creating the opposite of what we want – disengagement instead of engagement? What if loyalty is creating regret in people because they passed over life-changing opportunities to which their current employer can never live up to? How is that helpful?

It brings to the forefront the following question: can employers build loyalty so that it works for both parties – the employer and the employee?

I don’t have an answer to this yet. I need to ponder, I need to observe and I need to ask questions to the really great people that I know – including you. What do you think? Is employee loyalty a good thing?

Your Engaged Assignment: Take a look around your organization and ask yourself: are my employees loyal for the right reasons?