The Limits of Loyalty in the Workplace

Loyalty binds friendships and holds teams together – but it does have its limits.

Many of us were taught to be loyal to our employers. To some degree, this makes sense. We should all be truthful, we should keep trade secrets private, and we should put in an honest day's work when we're at the office. We have a duty to be great employees each and every day.

In the past, loyalty at work also brought with it a number of great rewards. Job security was a given. Hard work and commitment resulted in promotions and raises. Years of service guaranteed a comfortable retirement. Putting the company's needs first also meant putting our own needs first, in a way.

Today, times have changed. Without blaming one side or another, it's fair to acknowledge that modern workplaces are not built on loyalty they way they used to be. It's no longer unusual for companies to restructure and/or cut entire departments with no notice. It's also not unusual for companies to look to outside talent to save the day when things go wrong.

This new business climate puts us all at increased risk of losing our jobs at some point in our careers, no matter how loyal we are to our employers. It also makes internal promotions and pay raises more unlikely as more and more companies make outside hires instead.

So, what can you do about this new environment?

First, keep being a great employee each and every day. You are your own personal brand. You don't want to be any less valuable as an employee just because times have changed.

Second, focus on your long-term goals. Where do you want to be in 5 or 10 years? As you work to achieve your goals, pay attention to whether or not your company is supporting those goals. If you are being overlooked for promotions and raises, the company is sending you a signal. For whatever reason, it is not aligned with your goals. Your future success depends on accepting this unfortunate fact.

Expand your network and begin searching for a company that does align with your personal goals. When you switch companies, you'll have a chance to renegotiate your salary and your title. That means instead of settling for a 2 percent raise this year, you could earn a 10 percent boost or more.

At the end of the day, keep yourself and your future in mind. Don't sacrifice your own dreams because you want to be loyal to an organization. After all – that employer wouldn't hesitate to let you go if it needed to save some money.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Memphis Daily News.

Angela Copeland is a career coach and CEO at her firm, Copeland Coaching.