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© S.V. Medaris

Jumping ship
It's my group!
My country, right or wrong
"We" won!
Can a paycheck buy loyalty?


The USSR wasn't a worker's paradise, but you wouldn't know that from looking at these devoted workers...



A worker's paradise, here at home?
Got your gold watch? After 40 years of loyal service with Consolidated Widget, you'll be getting one, right?

Not. These days, the expectation of lifetime employment is a fantasy, says Kenneth De Meuse, a professor of management at the University of Wisconsin. As corporations downsize and restructure at the drop of a poor quarterly report, the expectation that employees should be loyal to the company has become a casualty of progress.

"Thirty years ago, organizations were different, society was different," he says. "The employee was to a large extent dependent on the employer, and in return, the employee would give the employer his soul in some respects."

In those days, he adds, "Asking for loyalty, or requiring it, was appropriate. It's no longer appropriate." With all the chaos in the employment market, employees are asking themselves, "Why should I be a dedicated, loyal and committed employee at this company when at the first sign of trouble, I may lose my job?"

Russian propaganda poster

Shifting sands
How often will the average person change jobs? We couldn't get a figure for that, but De Meuse said one demographer has estimated that a new college graduate will have five different careers. As loyalty has declined, flexibility and skills have become more important.

Instead of "my company, right or wrong," De Meuse says employees recognize "that when times get rough, they may lose my job. They don't expect a womb-to-tomb relationship." As a result, today's unspoken employment contract is far more conditional. "I will continue to perform at an acceptable level, will contribute and will update my skills. However, I will continue to network and look for positions outside the firm that will further my career." Workers, he says, are "a lot more savvy than 10 or 20 years ago."

Indeed, the general decline of loyalty in society means that Buchanan's move may attain better acceptance, says Worchel. "I think if he'd done this back in the '50s, the American public would have thought the only reason was that he didn't have a prayer in the Republican Party, and it was strictly out of self-interest, that he was reading the tea leaves. Today I think that will be a lot more accepted."

Back on the employment front, the growing uncertainty caused by restructuring and mobility has costs for both sides, De Meuse says. Businesses have difficulty planning for succession because the best and brightest employees are often jumping ship for jobs with the competition. For workers, the stress level is increased by the need to keep an ear to the tracks for word of a better job, and to learn new skills.

Continuous retraining may sound "good if you're in your 20s," De Meuse says, "but if you're in your 40s, 50s or 60s, and have grown up with the old system, you may have a different view of things."

Oh loyal reader: check out our bibliography.

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