Citizenship: Accepting, embracing, and observing the rights and duties of membership/belonging/participation in a defined group with its own structure, rules, customs, and leaders.
Is loyalty dead?
For many years in our research, we’ve been asking people of all ages, “Are you loyal to your employer?”
Most would assume that the oldest, most-experienced people would probably evince the most employee loyalty, while the youngest, least-experienced employees, would be the most disloyal employees. The conventional wisdom says that employee loyalty has been diminishing steadily from one generation to the next—from the Boomers to Generation X to Millennials to Generation Z. However, our research shows just the opposite. What’s more, but from Gen X to Millennials to Gen Z, over the years, younger people in the workplace have become more and more likely to say “yes” to this question.
This no longer surprises me. The reason is because the very meaning of employee loyalty is changing.
What today’s young people mean when they say they are “loyal” to their employer is the kind of loyalty you get in a marketplace. It’s the kind of loyalty you give to a customer; you get exactly as much loyalty as you pay for, and it lasts as long as you keep paying. Of course, it’s not just money that employees are looking for in a job.
No hard feelings to the employer, though. It’s just not about you; it’s about them. Every step of the way, employees are going to try to fit their work situation into the life experience they are trying to create for themselves.
Here’s what I tell managers: “Let go of the idea that good citizenship has to be completely selfless.” Good citizenship does not require selflessness. It’s OK if there is a quid pro quo. Employment relationships are transactional by nature. There are very few people go to work every day who do not need to make a living. Most people would stop coming to work if you stopped paying them. That does not make them disloyal. You can get a very deep level of true commitment–something more–and still have the essence of the relationship be transactional.
Membership, belonging, and participation come with rights and rewards. That is the quid pro quo. Good citizenship means that when you “join,” you are fully accepting, embracing, and promising to observe the duties—even at considerable personal sacrifice—that are on the other side of that quid pro quo. That means you have to define those duties in no uncertain terms and make it really clear why they are important.
Over time, the power of belonging comes more from accepting, embracing, and observing one’s duties than from enjoying the rights and rewards of membership. But that’s one of those secrets of wisdom that only comes with experience and age. You don’t need to tell today’s young talent about that part just yet.