The new loyalty and the freelance employee

Loyalty is not what it used to be… and it shouldn’t be.

By Jose Ruiz
Translated from articule published in CNNExpansion.com on Dec. 6, 2009

A few weeks ago my grandfather, who was a top ranking executive in the banking industry back in the 80’s, asked me what I thought about the perceived lack of loyalty in today’s employees. He was surprised to see that now, the average time an employee spends working for a company is around 5 years. An uncle, an entrepreneur, quickly responded loaded with sarcasm: “And what do you think about the perceived lack of loyalty in companies? They think short term and fire people when they don’t need them anymore -this month.” Touche. Hey, in the end, it isn’t personal, it’s just business. It may sound cold and ruthless but it’s not. We just need to sit back and analyze some paradigms that have been redefined over the past decades.

To many, especially amid these hard economic times, loyalty has been discarded in the work place. But the truth is, loyalty has only evolved. I’m sure you will agree with me when I say it is crazy to assume that an organization can commit to an employee for life, just as crazy as an employee committing to an organization for life. It could happen under the right conditions, but one cannot assume or guarantee that it will. Things change and they change fast. Organizations and employees need to achieve independence. Now, this may evoke thoughts of selfishness, but it is quite the opposite. Business relationships exist for a mutual benefit. Employment is not an exception. Loyalty is assuming that the relationship can end. Loyalty is taking into consideration what may happen to the other party when it does and loyalty is taking action every step of the way to guarantee that neither party in the relationship becomes dependant. A dependant relationship in business is not a healthy relationship.

The current economic environment has exposed many of these unhealthy relationships. Let’s delve deeper into the concept of dependence using an example: Bill, an employee at ACME, Inc. is a close friend of his manager. He has helped him when unforeseen events have required him to do a little extra of everything. Bill is a go-to guy at ACME and has been rewarded over the years with generous pay increases. The economy has hit ACME hard and has forced the company to close down. Bill is out of work and now struggles to make ends meet. He was presumably loyal and did everything that was asked of him, including jumping from one position to another. Now Bill is in the open market. His post switching did not allow him to define his own niche or career within a discipline -he has no brand- his resume is a mess and his salary expectations are well above what the market will pay for his skill set. Bill was dependant on ACME and ACME never considered what would happen to Bill in an open job market. By not helping him define a career path, (both internally and externally) and overpaying him, Bill was put in a very bad situation. ACME made him dependant and Bill never realized that he was.

Now, let’s assume a scenario where an investor stepped in, ACME re-opened its doors and re-hired Bill. Bill knows that his life style depends on his current job with ACME. The relationship is at a high risk of turning toxic because Bill’s dependence would most likely have an impact on the decisions he makes at ACME. He knows he needs to protect his job. At best, he will make decisions with a higher degree of fear.

A healthy business relationship and true respect comes with the independence of both parties and the trust resulting from it.

True loyalty in an employment relationship takes into consideration what will happen to the other party when the business relationship ends. A.J. Smith, General Manager for the San Diego Chargers preaches “We are all Chargers one season at a time, one game at a time”.

As an employee, one must consider all the possibilities, including that your job may end at any given moment. Are you ready for it? Do you know what your market value is? Do you know who may demand your services? Ask yourself these questions constantly. If you are taking on a new assignment, inquire how this will impact your personal brand and your resume. No matter what you do, or what your job may be, consider yourself a freelancer and your job as an assignment. Perform as if every assignment was an trial for the next. Above all, never forget that healthy relationships are based on mutual benefit. Push the other party’s benefit to the edge and you may break the relationship. If you guarantee your independence you will become a better employee. Guarantee the independence of those that work for you and you will have more loyal employees and a healthy relationship.

Be independent and be loyal. The new kind of loyal.


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Jose Ruiz is a Principal in Heidrick & Struggles’ Monterrey office. As an executive recruiter he has worked on executive search projects for multinational clients in industrial sectors and consumer markets.

About Heidrick & Struggles International, Inc.
The world’s premier provider of senior-level executive search and leadership consulting services. The firm’s executive recruiters and leadership experts operate from principal business centers in North America, Latin America, Europe and Asia Pacific. In Mexico, Heidrick & Struggles operates offices in Mexico City and Monterrey. For more information about Heidrick & Struggles please visit www.heidrick.com

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