Loyalty to the invisible corporation?
September 30, 2005 2:56 PM   Subscribe

I think I might be overly loyal to my employer. In fact, every employer I have had.

While (perhaps because I'm in IT) my jobs tend to not last more than 2-3 years before something bad happens that's out of my control, I tend to be intensely loyal to my employer and my coworkers, sticking it out to the absolute very end where, heartbroken, I grieve for my lost job.

I'm within a very short period (once again) of the company I work for, decent and fine and respectable as they might be, getting nailed hard by circumstances and I'm out of a job. My immediate concern isn't how I can protect myself from this, it's now I can protect the company and get it through this period (while hopefully staying employed). This scenario keeps repeating itself, and each time it's like I'm going through a relationship breakup.

How do I, A) put myself first and self-protect where I need to...leaving a job for more stability when it makes sense, while B) not feeling like I've been punched in the gut when I perceive myself to be disloyal and looking around for those opportunities? Barring that, how can I just accept the loss, pick myself up immediately and look for the next job after putting so much of myself into the job?

Other people that I know don't seem to have this problem, or this level of loyalty. Am I just weird?

To further put things in perspective, I still spend large amounts of time volunteering (in admittedly hobby-ish and enjoyable ways) for the employer of the job I had two employers and 5 years ago.
posted by Kickstart70 to Work & Money (13 answers total)
It's not clear to me this is a problem. Finding pleasure in your job, wanting to succeed, caring about the quality of your work, these are good things. Dedication and putting yourself into your job are qualities that all employers should value.

Personally, I recommend finding a way to combine your dedication with a sense of ownership and participation. Find a small company that will let you use your talents and passions to further the company and will respect you for that. It sounds like you are having a hard time distinguishing between your love of what you do and the company that allows you to do it. Find a company that deserves to be loved in this way.
posted by allen.spaulding at 3:20 PM on September 30, 2005

In my book, that quality would make you a great employee. Who wants to work with someone who bails at the first sign of trouble? Rather than adjusting your level of commitment, maybe you should be looking for companies that 1) will reward your commitment, 2) have a brighter long term future.

Since you brought up the dating/relationship metaphor ... a really great job is like a relationship and you don't want to hold back from putting so much of yourself into it. The thing to do is try to determine up front if the job (person) is worth devoting yourself to, rather than trying to protect yourself if they're not. It doesn't sound like you'd be happy with that sort of half-assed commitement anyway.
posted by zanni at 3:21 PM on September 30, 2005

Hi allen.spaulding,

It's not so much wanting to lessen the loyalty I guess, it's just the grieving period is painful. In many ways, more painful than real relationship breakups I've had. That, to me, seems wrong. I don't know why I should be feeling heartbroken over a lost job.
posted by Kickstart70 at 3:23 PM on September 30, 2005

I guess I'm not the right person to answer your question then. Following your analogy, when it comes to relationships, I think that heartbreak is a sign that you had something special. I respect your loyalty and wish more people cared that much about what they did. Yet if it's causing you serious setbacks, then it's time to find a way to get some distance from your job. Good luck with this quest, I suspect it's more universal than you think.
posted by allen.spaulding at 3:27 PM on September 30, 2005

Have you considered going into business for yourself? Your dedication to your work is admirable, but it might serve you better to direct that energy to yourself.

A friend of mine is also very dedicated to her work. She's the kind of employee that any company would dream of having. Unfortunately, she got put through the job wringer one too many times, and finally got a job at a public agency. She is still intensely dedicated to her job, and the agency actually rewards that. Not only is her risk of being laid off quite low, but she's also not required to work insane hours any more.

FWIW, I'm a bit jaded when it comes to private companies. They exist to make money. In my experience, employees are at the mercy of the stockholders, regardless what the managers say. I've worked at companies that said "our employees are the most important thing in this business", which was true until profits were affected.
posted by luneray at 3:33 PM on September 30, 2005

My previous post is probably not so useful. I misunderstood your question.

Are you weird? No, not really. Our jobs take up a large portion of our lives; why wouldn't we take them so seriously? Many of us spend more time involved with our jobs than with our families. Why wouldn't you grieve when a large chunk of your life has suddenly changed?

It's crushing to be laid off; it is like being dumped. Is it "wrong" to grieve over a lost job? I don't think so.

Good luck.
posted by luneray at 3:44 PM on September 30, 2005

If your employer treats you well, loyalty is just fine. It's fine to bail if you know that you absolutely must have that next paycheck, but if you can stick out tough times and don't mind doing so, it's entirely your decision.

If you need that paycheck, just remember that if an employer can't pay you, they're not filling their side of the contract. If it's fear of your job going under, don't feel bad about keeping a few contacts somewhere that would be happy to hire you if you should become available.

As for it being normal, I can see so. I've felt bad about needing to leave jobs where I was treated fairly. Of course, at the job where truth was a mythical beast and employee morale was kept just over suicidal by promises of bonuses, my only regret is giving those idiots notice in an at-will state.
posted by Saydur at 4:41 PM on September 30, 2005

I think the analogy to relationships is extremely misleading. While some romantic partners are only in it for material gain, that's not particularly common, whereas it's virtually universal in the employment situation. It's in your boss's interest, of course, to make you feel that way, to create a sense of "we're all in this together" (hence those stupid company mottoes and sing-alongs), but as soon as it looks profitable to dump employees, they'll do it in a heartbeat. It's thus quite nuts to feel the kind of loyalty you do to a friend or a lover; you should feel solidarity with your fellow employees, but all you owe your employer is an honest day's work for an honest paycheck. To give them loyalty beyond that is to ask to be screwed. If you see the end coming, your main focus should be on finding a place to jump to ASAP. Trust me, your employers can take care of themselves.

This is not primitive cynicism, it's the hard-earned lesson of several decades of working life. A word to the wise.
posted by languagehat at 5:59 PM on September 30, 2005

I so feel for you, as far as "getting nailed for things you didn't do." IT is notorious for that and if I wasn't lucky enough to have some smart people above me, I'd be gone. From what I've heard a lot of small businesses are like this. The top doesn't understand why "x" is happening and all they know is that you are somehow vaguely connected to "x". Even explaining the problem carefully will often get a "Why didn't you prepare for 'x' " where preparing means a $120,000 salary and a team of IT professionals underneath you (they don't like this answer).

Try going for a larger company. I worked IT in a large company for awhile and it was incredibly boring for me personally. I like purchasing, implementing and investigating new ways to use technology for the benefit of the company. In a large company your role is a lot more well definied and restricted. This has its plus and benefits. Obviously the job security is higher as there is most often someone way above you and you know exactly what to do and have several people around you to help you/verify the fuckup could not be controlled if such occurs.

The issue really comes down to trust and, unfortunately, the "penis size" factor of the management. If you have President and Vice-Presidents feeling as if they can change the problem by canning you (the penis size factor, things aren't working so I'm going to take the tough guy approach) or that simply don't trust you since they don't understand the issue and think you're talking down to them. This is really compounded by the fact that upper-management is usually older, did not grow up with technology and has some deep-seated dissatisfaction with technology (they probably were forced to use it in the 80s and at least sub-consiously hate it).

I'm making the assumption you're workin for a small business as large businesses (I'm talking about huge budgets, multi-national) have people who are knowledgable about the situation.

I'd consider changing to one of those consultant companies (which businesses hate working with since they charge them a lot and work relatively slowly) or a large multinational if I in your shoes.

If you can manage to find a company who actually values you back small business IT can be really rewarding.
posted by geoff. at 6:09 PM on September 30, 2005

Let me just take a wild guess here, and assume that your work has become the locus of your social life--that most of your postitive human interaction occurs at work. I know that when I first entered the working world, that was the case with me.

If so, the loyalty you display is partly a result of tribal bonding: we all need to belong somewhere, and work is the place we spend most of our waking hours. The cure, of course, is to enrich your social network outside of the workplace. Meet people outside of work, through friends, or other activities; and make these friends the center of your emotional life. I know that this is much easier to write than do, but it will make your life more balanced and help you regain control.

Of course, I am just guessing, based on my own previous experience.
posted by curtm at 6:56 PM on September 30, 2005

To answer your A) and B) questions, eventually you will be laid off enough times that you just don't give away your loyalty any more. Why should you? As languagehat points out, those companies don't have any loyalty to you, so why should you have any for them?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:21 PM on September 30, 2005

As a former boss told me many times: "Your employer is not your friend. Even if you like working here, don't ever forget that."
posted by sneebler at 9:21 PM on September 30, 2005

Thanks all for the comments...I think that I can get through this one a little easier than before. I also think that I may look into starting a business a little more seriously than I have been. I love being dedicated to a project, but can't stand having the project pulled out from underneath me without it being anything to do with my own choices. Maybe working for myself is the answer I seek.

I do tend to have this loyalty and resulting heartbreak much more with the small companies I've worked for, so curtm's comment on the tribal nature is most likely very accurate. The large companies I've work for still command my loyalty (generally to my close coworkers), but not the horror of leaving them quite to the same extent.
posted by Kickstart70 at 11:08 AM on October 1, 2005

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