Is Loyalty a Thing of the Past?

Recently I had lunch with one of my best friends. She re-entered the workforce a year ago after staying home when her kids were little. She wanted to know my opinion on loyalty in the work place. Does it exist? Do people feel an attachment to their employer?

In her case, she said she felt like she still owed her employer something for taking a chance and hiring her after she has been out of the workforce for four years. An interesting perspective. They took a chance on her and she felt she needed to repay that “chance” with a certain number of years of employment.

If you asked one hundred different people for their thoughts on loyalty, I suspect you would receive one hundred different responses.

But, is loyalty a motivator to do your work well and achieve results? I would say no. There needs to be a specific tie to the overall outcome that makes you achieve your goals and challenge yourself. Maybe you work for the government and make sure that kids have a place to sleep at night, or retirees are enjoying life after their careers because their pensions are paid on time and accurately. Whatever that motivator is, I think that will be the key for the work place of the future.

We already know that to be true for Generation Y. They couldn’t care less how long they’ve been with an organization – public or private. They want to feel good about the contribution they’re making to society…they want to know they are spending their energy furthering a higher purpose vs. just putting in their time.

In our experience with government settings, employees are very passionate about what they do. They were drawn to government-related jobs for a reason – and more often than not, it’s because they want to help people in one way or another. But then, over time, that passion for the work starts evaporating as the frustration over how the work gets done every day becomes overwhelming. It’s easy for people to lose sight of why they made the decision to work for the government, for a school, for a hospital, for a corporation – when every day feels like a jail sentence.

In a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE), we tie the big picture outcome to each job. That intrinsic motivator that was there when people started in their jobs is uncovered again. It drives people to do more, be efficient, collaborate better together, and be creative in how the customer is served. For some, loyalty may play an important part as well. So, am I right? Is loyalty going by the wayside? What does loyalty look like where you work?

To learn more about Results-Only Work Environment, visit

Stacey Swanson can be followed on Twitter @StaceyMSwanson

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Peter Sperry

So if we take employee/employer loyalty out of the equation, why bother with ROWE for employees when you can just contract out to freelancers on the net who can, and will, provide the same deliverables for a fraction of the cost by working from low income locations outside the country? If you can ROWE from 20 miles, you can freelance from 20,000. If the employer cannot expect the employee to be there consistently over a reasonably predictable period of time, why bother with them at all? If the employee cannot expect some sort of reasonable job security that will allow them to plan their lives, why stay with any given employer longer than the next best offer? Yes loyalty is important. Purely transactional relationships may work well for short periods but at some point people need know who and what they can count on as they plan for the future. Reciprical loyalty raises transactional relationships to the meaningful relationships.

Corey McCarren

I don’t think loyalty is a thing of the past, it would be a drastic shift in human behavior if it were. In our current job market (layoffs, etc) it is a little more difficult to be loyal because at the end of the day we have to make sure we can pay the rent. If an organization is having another round of layoffs and a person who works there is offered something comparable somewhere else they might take it, even if they can’t provide much advanced notice. That doesn’t mean they don’t feel loyal, it just means they have needs also.

I tend to agree with Peter Sperry on this. The lab I telecommute for could probably find someone to do what I do for cheaper (if not an intern to do it for free), but we both care about the company and she knows I’m reliable. Of course I also probably have a significantly higher ROI than an unpaid intern would, but regardless, not having to micromanage and worry about whether or not I’m doing my job and doing it well, even from 300 miles away, gives them good incentive to keep me around.

If mutual loyalty wasn’t a part of being a reliable worker I would say you’re right. However, I’ve contracted out jobs before and it is a huge pain working with people who aren’t loyal to the company. It can take a lot of “kicking” to get a job done right. There are obviously many exceptions to the rule, but I still think it qualifies as a rule.

Stacey Swanson

It is interesting to think about loyalty in this day and age. Is it a decrease loyalty a function of society and as you mention, Corey, significant numbers of layoffs?

In my Dad’s career, he worked for 3 different companies before retiring. Do those days still exist? And, when it comes down to it, do organizations have your back?

I would argue that ROWE instills more loyalty with employees because it gives them control over their time to achieve their results in life and work.

Thanks for adding to the discussion, Corey and Peter. Great comments!

Lawrence Jefferson Bell


Loyalty is very much a part of my generational culture (I’m a baby boomer) but it’s not always that simple. Loyalty has layers, I believe. Federal Civil Service has at least four layers that effect our sense of loyalty and our ability to “feel” and demonstrate that loyalty. At the highest level, most of us are intensely loyal to America and the ideals and traditions that entails. The next level is our organization. I work for the Department of Homeland Security so because of my love of country, I am also intensely loyal to my organization. The next level is my office and work-place. While I enjoy my work and feel that I add value to my organization, my young (Generation X) supervisor feels he/she must always have his/her name on the work. Being a “baby boomer,” I’ve learned that the best way to get anything accomplished is to not care who gets credit, but when that means presenting the same content in someone else’s words (so that he/she can take the credit) the long days and late nights lead to frustration. The final level is our work environment. This includes our colleagues and peers first followed by our physical environment and our work space.

Most of us, who are federal civil servants, are intensely loyal to our nation and our parent organizations. The difficulties may come with our supervisors and, at times, with our physical environment. While very few people will leave a job because they don’t have a window in their cubicle or the chair they want, People frequently leave because they can’t find value with their present supervisor. While I don’t have a solution, I do have a suggestion. That is to put your loyalties in the correct priority:

1. Nation

2. Organization

3. Office

4. Environment

Stacey Swanson

Lawrence- LOVE, LOVE , LOVE your comment! I definitely learned something from you today! Thank you for sharing your insight on loyalty and helping clarify the complexity of the concept!

Dick Davies

I had never thought of loyalty to an organization. Loyalty is between two people, and is constantly earned and repaid.

Kevin Lanahan

Great comment, Lawrence.

My dad worked for the same defense company for his entire career. They were very good to him and he gave them his best work. At the same time, some of his friends got laid off when contracts ended; some of them felt betrayed that the company didn’t try to place them elsewhere.

One reason I got into government was that I could not see that my employers had any sense of loyalty to their employees. I think this began to change around the time “Personnel” became “Human Resources” (in couple of years, we’ll all be “meatware”). If my employer expected me to give 110% but not promise to make an effort to keep me employed, it’s no wonder there’s no loyalty anymore.

In government, I work for an agency whose mission I can believe in, with bright, talented people who also have a sense of mission. It makes me want to come to work everyday.

Lawrence Jefferson Bell

Mr. Davies, I appreciate your comment but we may be using different definitions for “organization.” I don’t think of my organization in terms of just a named entity but as a collective of people who have a shared vision and mission. Perhaps we are also using different definitions for “loyalty.” When I think of loyalty to an organization, I’m thinking of commitment to the vision and mission and to those within the organization who share in that vision and mission.

Corey McCarren

Stacy- Those days are probably over, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing. Not counting high school/college jobs, I’ve worked with 2 organizations already and interned with another for 10 months. In my opinion it’s good to diversify, you learn more. That doesn’t mean the loyalty isn’t there, it just means there’s a tradeoff between long-term employment and professional development.

Stacey Swanson

Corey- Good point! I think loyalty can take on different forms based on your experiences. Thanks for your input!

Allison Primack

Here are some responses from GovLoop’s Facebook:

Amanda Blount I think it went by the way-side with the generations of the 80’s. The big recession saw older people (who had been with company’s for many years) get laid off and when the company started hiring again, these older employees watched as the companies hire younger cheaper people … so yes, I see it starting to end in the 80’s….but it has only gotten worse since then.

Camille Carboneau Roberts It depends. I’ve been working with clients leaving their current jobs where they have worked 25-30 years. It is very scary, yet exciting for them. However, the trend now is most people with have at least 4 careers, possibly 6 (yikes!) in their lifetime. During my career, I have watched companies turn their “loyalty” on employees though. I think it has become a sign of the times in some cases. Sad to say.

Rosemarie Franz Long gone.
Joe Fraher Yes a thing of the past. Once burned always looking.