Employee Loyalty is Dead. Good Riddance.

Last Updated May 20, 2010 8:57 AM EDT

A new employee contract? When we published an irate email from entrepreneur Jason Calacanis to a job-hopping young employee in which Calacanis blames fickle Gen Y for America's decline, the comments section filled up with readers informing Calacanis his expectation of loyalty is outdated. Lay-offs, the increase in unpaid internships and a general sense that companies are only looking out for executives and shareholders and not employees, has contributed to a sentiment summed up by commenter Bouchart: "There is no reason for any employee to be loyal to any company."
Young employees like Calacanis's and my alert readers aren't the only ones who have figured out that devotion is no longer rewarded in corporate America. Insightful HBR blogger Tammy Erickson also believes the old system of loyal service in exchange for security is dead.
How can leaders recreate an atmosphere of trust in the organization? My superficial answer: Forget about it -- or at least, forget about restoring trust as you understood it previously.
Trust in corporations was traditionally constructed in this way: The individual was loyal. The institution protected and cared for the individual. Employees professed to have no priorities outside their specific institution. And the corporation promised long-term opportunities and enhanced rewards for those who stayed.
In truth, we have been chipping away at one side of this relationship for decades, certainly since the extensive layoffs of the early 1980s. It's time to acknowledge that the old equation -- the one in which we trusted -- is gone. It won't come back. It can't be restored, and, frankly, that's probably appropriate given the nature of work today.
So what understanding should replace the old formula? Erickson has a suggestion:
Here's the equation I believe will form the basis of trust between corporations and workers for the decades ahead: The organization will provide interesting and challenging work. The individual will invest discretionary effort in the task and produce relevant results. When one or both sides of this equation are no longer possible (for whatever reasons) the relationship will end.
This makes a huge amount of sense to me, but then again I am still relatively young and at a stage of my life where I value freedom and flexibility over stability. But if companies are to focus on results rather than time served, why not go further? Why count the hours an employee is sitting at her desk? Why worry whether she's in at 9 or 10? If in the future agility in a changing marketplace demands employees and companies are going to understand themselves as exchanging effort for results, than isn't it time for a more results-oriented work environment?

In your opinion, is there any hope for employee loyalty, or is it a terminal case? And if loyalty as traditionally understood is on its last legs, how sad are you to see it go?
(Zombie image by shaymus22, CC 2.0)

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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.