The end of workplace loyalty


Throughout my two-year exploration of the ever-evolving work dynamic in America, one recurring theme has been loyalty. Whether investigating topics like "quiet quitting," job-hopping, or leveraging job offers for higher salaries, I've observed a clear divide among my readers. On one side, we have the bosses and long-tenured employees, typically belonging to the boomer and Gen X generations, who often express discontent with the perceived lack of loyalty among younger employees. On the other side, we have the younger rank-and-file workers, comprising mostly millennials and Gen Zers, who feel equally aggrieved, questioning why they should be loyal to a company that may not demonstrate loyalty in return.

A recent report on white-collar workers secretly maintaining multiple full-time jobs, a phenomenon known as overemployment, has further underscored this divide. When I asked these workers if they felt guilty about essentially cheating on their employers, many were unapologetic, citing a shift in the traditional understanding of loyalty and job security. This led me to dive deeper into the concept of loyalty, exploring its origins, questioning whether loyalty still offers rewards, and delving into why it remains a contentious issue.

Research indicates that the psychological contract between employers and employees, encompassing their mutual expectations and the sense of fairness in their exchange, is pivotal. This psychological contract, when upheld with mutuality and reciprocity, fosters trust and loyalty, leading to high productivity and low turnover. However, the current sentiment suggests that this psychological contract is fundamentally fractured, contributing to widespread disillusionment in the workplace.

In the decades following World War II, American companies experienced substantial prosperity, which they shared with their employees through generous raises, expanded benefits, and a sense of job security. Nevertheless, the onset of globalization sparked a profound shift in management philosophy. Employers began treating employees as expendable, discarding long-held incentives for loyalty. This shift has only been compounded by recent trends such as the Great Resignation and the rise of remote work, further disintegrating the traditional bond between employers and employees.

The result is a workplace where both employers and employees feel shortchanged, leading to a breakdown in the mutual trust and loyalty that once characterized the employment relationship. However, there is hope for rebuilding this trust. Progressive companies have recognized the need to operate differently, focusing on restoring trust and establishing lifelong relationships with employees through alumni programs and other initiatives.

In this new landscape, both employers and employees must work towards a revamped understanding of loyalty. Employers should provide transparency during challenging times, offer meaningful development opportunities, and prioritize internal candidates for new openings. In return, employees are encouraged to uphold their end of the bargain by being productive team members and showing commitment during temporary challenges.

Ultimately, the psychological contract isn't just a transactional ledger; it's about the mutual treatment and expectations that shape our beliefs about the work relationship. Even in the face of disillusionment, individuals seek acknowledgment and respect, driving a deeper sense of loyalty within the workplace. By recognizing the intrinsic human need for genuine connections, employers have the power to repair the broken psychological contract and cultivate a workplace dynamic where loyalty flows both ways.  

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