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A coaching client faced a loyalty dilemma. She had been working for a large, prestigious risk management company for 12 years. While there she’d earned a coveted professional designation and gotten promoted along the way, and demand for her expertise was high. But she was working 70-hour weeks including weekends, and despite her success, her workload was increasing. She was recruited by a smaller firm and offered a similar position, with comparable pay and promised a more manageable schedule.
She was ready for a change but was struggling with feelings of indecision. She’d been happy where she was and enjoyed the professional respect and compensation, but hated not having a life. Should she move on, or did she owe her employer loyalty? Besides, wouldn’t they want to keep her around? She considered telling her boss about the offer, and leveraging it to get them to lighten workload, but was worried that could backfire.
The kiss of death
We’ve been led to believe that loyalty to corporations would result in financial stability and a nice retirement for us. This may have been true for our parents and their parent’s generations, but technology and cheap outsourcing has changed things. The harsh reality is that all too often our jobs are secure for just as long as it takes the company to find ways to automate them out of existence.
In every profession in the world, we see that terminations are a regular part of worklife. In fact it is part of every manager’s job to add or lose employees on his or her own timetable. So telling an employer that you’ve been looking, no matter how you pitch it, is not going to help your immediate future at that company.
Who deserves your loyalty?
Always give an employer your best in every job you have, at the least it makes your job more fun and the day go quicker – at best it makes you a more desirable professional. This is in your own best interests.
But do not confuse what is good for you with unearned loyalty to an employer for whom you will sacrifice 100% of your time and energy. You do a good job when you are there and put in some extra effort, but do it consciously and allow yourself to have a life and your own pursuits.
You should replace unearned loyalty to the company – an entity that is only loyal to itself, with loyalty or if you prefer, enlightened self-interest in your own wellbeing. Begin to think of yourself as MeInc, a small corporation that must survive and prosper over the long haul and, as a result, make fewer emotional decisions and more pragmatic ones for your own wellbeing.
Making a decision about a strategic career move needs to be about what’s in your best interests. Bottom line, the company will always operate in its own best interests and you need to do the same.
Is the new job in my best interests?
Our client was genuinely conflicted: Enlightened self-interest would be logical but upbringing and experience says that would be selfish. Blind loyalty is idiotic with a body corporate that sees employees as disposable commodities, not as human beings to whom they have ethical obligations. You never talk about this with employers, but you know that this is reality.
There is no job security any more; change is the only constant in our turbulent professional worlds, which means that successful careers require strategic planning. You don’t want to join the ranks of unhappy professionals, who accept a job, only to realize after the honeymoon that they’d made a terrible mistake. A bad match may genuinely catch you unaware, but you have a greater chance of success and fulfillment in your career when you analyze future moves based on clearly focused self-interest.
You have nothing to evaluate until an offer is on the table, so every interview gets your educated best, because learning to turn job interviews into job offers is one of life’s greatest skills. Once a job offer is on the table it is time to evaluate how that job plays into your long-term goals. You should consider asking these questions as part of an intelligent evaluation, of course tuning them into your conversational style – these questions are serious as a heart attack, but they needn’t be expressed as such:
Factors to evaluate
How the size and culture of this company will impact your goals.
How the skills developed on this job will make you more or less employable with other companies. And how will this company support professional skill development?
How are your manager’s performance expectations laid out, is it clear enough to evaluate your own performance? If not, make it part of the conversation: “I’m not quite sure of my responsibilities and how I will be judged. Could you walk me through a week and our interactions?”
How will performance evaluations be judged and communicated – you want to know who says and does what and when they do it.
What is the professional development path for this job and how have the manager and his reports moved along it?
Who succeeds, who fails…and why?
Be a discrete skeptic, not everything a potential employer says turns out true: Verify, don’t trust.