Sunday, March 23, 2014

Does It Make Any Sense To Feel Loyalty Towards A Corporation?

It's obvious why companies want to have loyal employees.

Loyal employees are less likely to leave, more likely to behave the way the company wants them to, and may possibly work for lower pay.

But does it make sense for a person to feel loyalty towards a corporation?

Is a corporation not an entity that exists purely to facilitate its own survival, while generating profits for shareholders? To a corporation, isn't a person nothing more than an income-producing asset, to be discarded once it has outlived its usefulness?

Doesn't loyalty mean something irrational, something that goes beyond mere 'fair exchange'... which implies that the loyal employee is giving more to the company than they are getting back?
Are corporations even perhaps laughing behind their backs at our loyalty, or simply bemused by it?

Author Jon Ronson profiled the notorious American businessman Al Dunlap.

At a plant in Mobile, Alabama, Mr Dunlap asked a man how long he'd worked there.

"Thirty years!" the man proudly replied.

"Why would you want to stay with a company for thirty years?" Dunlap said, looking genuinely perplexed.

He then fired the man. (Dunlap recounts the story himself, with glee, which is probably why he ended up in a book called 'The Psychopath Test'.)

But if Dunlap is suspicious of people who stay too long, it has to be said that we are also suspicious of those who move too much. 

Do they have itchy feet, or is it that they keep getting found out?

Obviously there are times when it makes sense to move. There might be family reasons, or you might be at an agency that has gone downhill, or you've gone stale.

But let's not forget that moving carries risk.

You see, there's a strange phenomenon in our industry.

A talented team will do great work, take the opportunity to move to another agency for more money or better opportunities... and then not get anything out for a year.

Happens loads.

There seems to be something helpful about 'knowing the ropes' at a place. It takes about a year to figure out which briefs are 'fools' gold' (look fantastic but are in fact worthless), which people you need to get on the right side of, and the often-mysterious process by which work actually emerges.

So that's an argument for staying put.

Also, commitment brings psychological benefits. 

I remember talking to a Creative at Goodby, who was telling me that he had moved around a lot in the past, but had now decided to "really put down some roots - and commit to a place."

I like that. If you're not thinking of a place in terms of what you can get out of it, but instead in terms of what you can give... you're actually likely to get more out of it too.

So although there are arguments on both sides, I'm going to come down in favour of commitment.

Yes, it could be seen as slightly irrational to feel loyalty towards a corporate entity. And yet... if that company embodies a set of values you believe in, and contains a group of people you like and respect, then loyalty does make sense, does it not?


Anonymous said...

I have always erred on the side of planting strong roots. You might feel that your current agency has unwanted quirks, maybe even perceivably unfixable ones. But the truth is, another agency will have it's own unique set of quirks, which over time will become annoyances and possibly become unbearable. Clearly arsehole employers and a stream of terrible work is fair game to start looking, but anything decent shouldn't be sniffed at. I think most people can be swayed by clearly good offers or opportunities, but 90% of moves are much of a muchness in reality.

People who move around to "jump the queue" might find what they want, but moving too much can have negative effects too. If folks are in it only for themselves, eventually that will show through. The main thing I enjoy about being part of a small agency, is as I grow with the company I am given the opportunity to shape its future. In my opinion the cost for this is commitment.

Is my place perfect? No. Could it be better? Absolutely. But rather than looking for something else, I'd prefer help shape the improvements myself. In any case, there are always reasons to make a move if you want to look for them. The grass is only greener if you plant it that way.

Darren said...

Are you sure Loyalty is Heng-To? None of the Chinese at TrinityP3 (both Cantonese and Mandarin speakers) do not recognise this.

Scamp said...

Darren, I'm afraid I didn't research the grammar, just stole the cartoon from the internet! Although a quick google search does reveal that 'heng' can mean 'permanent, constant, fixed.' Then again, it can also mean 'to snort' or 'the top gem of a pendant from a girdle'! It's all in the pronounciation, I guess.

Realist said...


Anonymous said...

People don't leave bad agencies, they leave bad bosses.

Very few people leave environments where they are allowed to grow, learn, work with great people, and do great work. The reality is that in advertising there are so few agencies where the working environment, the management, and the work are good across the board.

Anonymous said...

Having had both long and short stints with a variety agencies and client teams over a period of over 25 years, I believe there is absolutely no value at all in loyalty. On a number of occasions I have made huge sacrifices to stay and be loyal and have felt used and abused on each and every occasion. As long as you are making your company money, you position is viable. Loyalty will not enable you to overcome financial shortcomings as the financial axe is brutal and swift. I have also found that potential employers looked at longer term loyalty as a negative attribute and automatically stamp it as an unwillingness to grow and bring a variety of different experiences to a new employer. They also see it as a trait where the person is not driven to improve themselves.
Look after your own interests because nobody else will. If you a situation stinks, leave it behind. If you can add to something great, stick around and do it. Always remember that careers in the industry are short. Look at any agency staff photo for proof. Grab as much as you can, whilst you can because long term career paths do not exist.

Old CD Guy said...

Simon, I left at least two of the world's to-die-for agencies in their heyday after previously idolising them from afar for many years. I was fiercely loyal while I worked for them, but ultimately creative restlessness, impatience, ego or immaturity gets to you. No agency is perfect. Utopia doesn't exist, but it's exciting believing you've found it - until reality bites and you're on the road again. I also worked for some rotten agencies and undermined them relentlessly!

Anonymous said...

I believe the key word is not loyalty but 'usefulness'.
Nobody cares about loyalty but a useful employee is one you hang on to...even if you dont like them or they are difficult. So dont work at being will be more useful than anyone else and you'll be alright