How much Loyalty do you Owe your Employer?

“I feel bad about leaving.”

Those are words that I have heard many times from employee’s considering leaving one of my companies to go on to a new opportunity.

I’ve seen it enough to know that the feeling is common and genuine. Departing employees often feel a deep sense of loyalty to their company. They sometimes even view their departure as a betrayal.

This is a real dilemma for someone like you who is looking to live out a calling with your professional life. You want to be doing work that serves your calling, which sometimes means leaving your current role (even if it’s a great gig), in order to pursue the work that is going to be most fulfilling to you and of most service to others.

And yet, precisely because you are a conscientious person who has made it your mission to be excellent at work, you are torn between pursuing your calling and the loyalty that you feel toward your employer.

This got me thinking: How much loyalty does an employee actually owe an employer?

Absolutely NONE.

This answer may surprise you – especially since I most often sit as the employer.

Beyond a hard day’s work in exchange for a paycheck, an employee owes NOTHING to a company. – Click to Tweet

The Truth About Your Relationship with Your Employer

The company’s responsibility is to drive profits in the most effective way possible. If this means that for some reason you no longer help the employer reach this aim, the company can and will terminate your services.

This dynamic should work both ways.

When an employer no longer provides you what you need in the form of compensation and professional development then you have every right to terminate the relationship without guilt.

This is an especially important lesson for people like you, people who see their work not simply as a job but as their life’s great calling. In his most recent book,Mastery, Robert Greene puts it nicely (bolding is mine):

In Dealing with your career and its inevitable changes, you must think in the following way:

You are not tied to a particular position; your loyalty is not to a career or your company. You are committed to your Life’s Task, to giving it full expression. It is up to you to find it and guide it correctly. It is not up to others to protect or help you. You are on your own.

What this means for employees (and employers)

This reality does NOT mean that you should pursue anything less than excellence in your current role simply because it’s not your final role. Quite the opposite. Since you are in pursuit of a calling, you have more than just money as a motivator. For you, being excellent where you are now is mission critical.

As well, this does NOT mean that you cannot develop loyalty toward individuals that you work with. Some of those relationship will be vitally important for you personally and professionally long after you have left your current role.

Loyalty is an integral part of any long-term relationship. Still, feelings of loyalty toward individual coworkers should not stand in the way of you pursuing and expressing your calling. Find an artful way to pursue your life’s great work with abandon and not burn your friends along the way.

If you end up on the other side of the table and become the employer, remember that your employees don’t owe you anything more than a hard days work. If you want to have long standing relationships with great employees, you’re going to need to capture more than their wallets.

You will need to capture their hearts with a vision for work that matters. You will also need to capture their attention and imagination by showing them a path where they can grow within your organization. Otherwise, they’ll go elsewhere to find the growth they desire.

And even if you do all of this, there will still come a point when a motivated employee needs to move on to find the growth that she’s looking for.

In that case, remember: no hard feelings.

Here’s the point:

Jobs are important. Careers are fine and companies can be great. None of these, though, should stand in the way of your calling.

What do you think? Do you feel overly loyal to your employer? Why or why not? Leave a comment.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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12 thoughts on “How much Loyalty do you Owe your Employer?

  1. Great Post Ryan!

    I was really looking for the part of not burning bridges after the employee leaves and keeping in touch with those who the employee really connected with at the previous company. It is those people who will be able to vouch for the employee and tell how great they are when it comes to another employer asking about them and their work ethic.

    Also loved the Mastery quote, I heard that book is a great read so I am planning on getting my hands on a copy soon.

  2. Ryan, your point is so important for so many areas of life. I find that false loyalty weighs down the bearer. So many opportunities are missed out of a sense of false loyalty. The one exception is friendship, although even then we may sometimes need to leave others behind when pursuing a calling. At least I have needed to leave some folks behind. Good article! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Hi Ryan. Last week whilst my boss was on annual leave I almost applied for a new job – one that was much more writing based which is what I really want to do. I chickened out, feeling that I was going behind his back. I get on so well with my boss, that I pretty much treat him like I would a friend. Your post made me realise this is something I need to overcome, if I am going to ever get to where I want to be.

    • Thanks for sharing Alex. I hear you with the boss/friend dynamic. At the end of the day if he’s a true friend, he’ll understand that you need to do what’s best for your development.

  4. This feeling of ‘loyalty’ or ‘indebtedness’ also happens when you’re a freelancer. You might want to stop working wih a particular client, but you’ve “worked together for so long!” or “don’t want to leave him high and dry”. As you point out with traditional employment, the fit must be good for BOTH parties.

  5. Great post, because I was in this dilemma just a few months ago! Thanks for helping me out. I felt like I had to be loyal to my employer and nearly saw an opportunity go away. Though I left my old company, I’m still in touch with the team, I just had lunch with them a few weeks ago.

    Really great advice here!