Loyalty is a tricky word. While it can mean intellectually binding oneself to a course of action, I believe it is most typically used in its emotional context. Loyalty implies a faith or devotion to a cause. I believe loyalty is one of the most dangerous impediments to a successful and rewarding career.
Consider loyalty to a corporation. Feeling loyal to your place of work sounds like a wonderful state of being. The idea only becomes absurd when restating as having faith in an individual corporation. Faith is a serious thing and it should be applied only after thoughtful consideration. A company hiring you or providing cursory training should in no way require you to tie your wagon to them for the distant future. Their decisions were not emotional, but rather calculated and intentional.
Successful relationships with companies are built on a foundation of trust and respect. If a company treats you with trust and respect, it’s pretty easy to get along with them, giving them trust and respect in return. You may have disagreements, but when trust and respect are involved it is much easier to be objective about such things. If a company refuses to treat you with trust and respect, but rather depends on instilling a sense of loyalty in you, well, your internal alarms should go off.
As a young employee, I experienced a corporate culture whose goal was to tie my job situation as their employee to my career. Early on, meetings with my supervisor discussed my future goals. Would I like to be a team lead, project manager or supervisor? These are long-term goals equated with long-term employment.
Likewise the career advisors at college pushed the job-as-a-career ideal. Professors had little opinion, since most spent little time in the private sector. “Career counselors” had plenty to say about which companies were good. Generally this meant if a company consistently hired students from the school and participated in campus outreach, the company was good. Little consideration was given to whether a company could help me reach my career goals. I have since learned that it is very important to understand one’s personal career goals as early in the game as possible.
My job was something my employer cared greatly about. Their goal was to keep me slightly more motivated than disgruntled. The corporate phrase for this process is “career management.” Career management is the process of selling you on the idea that your job with the company is your career. I believe this is most prevalent at companies who hire heavily from the pool of new college graduates.
Unfortunately for the employees of the world, “career management” is not particularly beneficial to their careers. A career is something only the employee, and those who depend on her, truly care about. While some employers may have altruistic motives, most corporations have very little flexibility to align individual employee’s career goals with their career management track.
It is difficult for a young person to understand the difference between taking responsibility for his career and investing himself in corporate career management. To the employee it appears the company has invested countless hours trying to progress his career. The employee feels it would be unethical to ignore this contribution to his betterment. He owes it to the company to stick around for n years and put in his time. It is the comfortable choice.
Divorce yourself from the fallacy of equating corporate and personal career management. A career is the individual’s responsibility alone. If it is heading in the wrong direction, only the individual can redirect his career. If you are not being appropriately challenged in a job, it is time to look elsewhere.