Loyalty is an interesting idea. Companies expect it. Many demand it. You must be a loyal employee. You must put the company's best interest first. Even if you don't agree, you should toe the company line. Otherwise, your worst fears could happen. You may find yourself without work.
What I find interesting however is this. In the past, companies offered loyalty in return. Companies provided pensions. They provided security. You could work at one company for thirty years and then retire comfortably. You could even work your way up the company ladder. It was reliable.
Unfortunately, companies are no longer able to provide the same level of loyalty to employees. Or, perhaps they choose not to. Whether it's a more competitive market or different expectations, retiring from one company is much less likely today than it was forty years ago.
But, despite the market changes on the company side, most employers still expect the same level of loyalty from you. Now, don’t get me wrong. I'm not talking about honesty and integrity. Of course, we should all be honest. Every day, we should do our best work.
Many companies expect you to stick around through thick and thin. They expect you not to look for a new job; not to return the phone calls from recruiters. Honestly, it seems that because most jobs are considered 'at will' and you can be fired anytime, loyalty is expected in exchange for a job – now. But, next week, next month, and next year aren't guaranteed.
So where should your loyalty lie? I would argue that it should lie within ourselves. In today's job market, you're the CEO of your own career. Think of yourself like a small business or a consultant. You are in the driver's seat. You have to be. It's your job to build your resume over time. It's your job to seek promotions. And, it's your job to be sure your training is up to date. With all that said, it's also your job to protect your reputation by showing up each day – by doing your best and by being honest.
You cannot simply turn over your loyalty to a company. Much like a romantic relationship, loyalty must be earned over time. You cannot blindly give up your power. You cannot assume you'll be taken care of.
If you think of yourself like a small business, you'll be off to the right start. Your employer is like your client. Do the best work for them each and every day. In exchange, they'll compensate you. But, like a small business, you never know when that client will decide to move in a new direction. So, you have to be ready. Small businesses are always looking for their next client. They're networking. They're setting up a situation where they are not dependent on any one revenue stream.
Do your best today, but be loyal to your future vision.
Angela Copeland, a career expert and founder of Copeland Coaching, can be reached at copelandcoaching.com.