Whose Loyalty Is It Anyway?

loyaltyHas anyone decided yet how length of service to an employer should be considered now that we have divided the workforce into neat compartments depending on what period in our history they were born? Anybody? Nobody? Maybe because it means different things to different people.

I grew up in an industry where people leaving the business was unheard of. People were suspicious of anyone who would only stick around in a job for a couple of years before moving on. Indeed, I stayed 8 years in my first HR role. Fast forward to 2 years ago when I had a conversation with a former colleague who had a specific plan to move on to a new job every 2 or 3 years to keep things interesting. Nothing wrong with that I suppose although surely what you are gaining from a role is a more appropriate factor to consider than how long you’ve worked at a particular firm. What happens if you get asked to be involved in a very exciting project 2 years and 364 days into your 3 year plan?

I don’t hear people talk about loyalty anymore. Sure, I hear people talk about ‘length of service’ a lot, but not loyalty. When I was involved in a great deal of disciplinary cases in a former employer, I used to hear trade union representatives put forward the employees x number of years in the company to demonstrate their loyalty in mitigation, regardless of the fact that it might have been almost irrelevant of the case in front of them. I recall one particular case where a representative asked me as the disciplinary chair to consider the employees many, many years of service although when I pointed out that the individual had received various formal warnings for other misconduct offences during those many, many years the representative stated that I had ‘missed the point’. I don’t think I did, but let’s not tell the rep.

I’ve also observed this being considered from a management point of view too, including at pay review times pre 2006, when some individuals with longer service received higher percentage pay increases as a reward for loyalty although it inevitably meant that those who were far better in every possible way and adding a much greater value to the organisation received less. Yes but John has worked for the company for, like, forever so there’s that.

Employers haven’t decided how they prefer to treat ‘loyalty’ either. A friend of mine had an interview for a job a few years back when the employer was concerned that my friend hadn’t moved around more in their career despite them explaining the experiences they gained in the small number of employers they’d worked for. They had spent 4 years with one employer and the feedback they received was that this made their ambition questionable.

Us operational HR folk know the importance of 2 years service in employment law in the UK when considering the relevant risks to dealing with a particular issue but again thats fairly isolated.

If we believe what we are being told about the millennial grouping of employees, and for the record, I subscribe to the viewpoint put forward by Professor Rob Briner from the Centre for Evidence-Based Management that based on meta analysis what we are fed about the millennial grouping points to few, if any differences between this grouping and others, then millennials are expected to be ‘job-hoppers’ where loyalty is not even a consideration.

I think our various generations in the workplace is not just making for a challenging working environment, but for a really interesting and exciting one. More questions like this will need to be asked but for now, ‘loyalty’ has become ‘length of service’ and no one knows whether thats a good, bad or indifferent thing.