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Loyalty, Shmoyalty! The New Reality Mark Swartz, M.B.A. M.Ed.

About the Author

Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is Canada's Career Activist. His insights reach millions yearly as the Workopolis.com Career Advisor, as author of the best seller "Get Wired, You're Hired," also as a professional speaker and coach on career/work issues. A former Toronto Star careers columnist, Mark's advice is forthright and practical. For Canada's biggest directory of free career articles, and for personalized coaching, please visit www.CareerActivist.com.

Listening to an old Bob Seger song, Night Moves, I started thinking about what the workplace was like in 1976, the year the album came out. Strikes me that employers had a tacit understanding with their staff back then: do a good job and we'll take care of you until retirement.

Things have changed pretty drastically in the interim. Nearly three decades of downsizing, re-engineering and bottom-line fixation have left the old social contract in shreds.

Not that I yearn to resurrect a flawed past. Fact is, the thought of being tied to one employer for life gives me the willies. Kind of like a marriage of convenience for a tenuous slice of security.

Then again, the constant uncertainty of today's workplace is hardly an acceptable alternative. At its worst, it's led to disillusionment, suspicion, fear and survivalism -- as well as stress that's promoted illness and a decrease in workplace civility. Employees from the mailroom up to the CEO's office have been affected.

Workin' on mysteries without any clues, workin' on our night moves.

Is there hope for a better way to emerge?

Perhaps, according to Victor Apa, President of Victor Apa and Associates, a Canada-wide career transition firm. He tells me that first we have to change our concept of what a job is. 'Work today can be seen today as a series of projects. The employer provides you with the necessary tools and perks, while you deliver targeted results.'

Apa sees great opportunity in this paradigm. 'It favours people who have drive, confidence, urgency, and a high dominance factor.'

Does this mean that social Darwinism rules? Will only the fittest companies survive, and only the most capable, devoted employees get hired?

Not necessarily, in Apa's view. He sees a shift away from employer paternalism toward employee self-management. In other words, we have to look after our own careers from now on. Progressive organizations understand the effect this has on people and are trying to use appropriate motivators.

'Enlightened employers are saying 'Let's make sure we have right people in the right job, based on fit, which includes competence, personality, interest in the work, and values.' If issues exist, managers try to determine if training, coaching or re-alignment will help,' says Apa.

I tend to agree that this ethos of self-reliance has some upsides. For one thing, it forces us to think about what we truly want from work, instead of just going with the flow. Unfortunately, it also diminishes our concept of loyalty and makes it harder to relax and enjoy the fruits of our labour.

Yet employees are not the only ones affected. Charles Grossner, co-author of 'Get Back To Work!' (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2002), points out that all sides are feeling the impact.

'With technology, the transfer rate of information has increased exponentially, especially over last 10 years. Employees have readier access to listings of alternate positions and salary data, while employers can search resumes electronically and choose from a wider pool of candidates.'

By continually eliminating staff, and by having employees leave voluntarily more frequently, the corporate memory becomes eroded, and companies must constantly be recruiting and training.

Therefore 'companies don't get the full payoff from their people, and people don't get the full benefit of rising through ranks, receiving cross training, and maturing within an organization,' explains Grossner.

The irony is that employers have taught us to look after ourselves instead of pledging allegiance to them directly, so when the economy is hopping--just when companies need people most--we're more likely to jump ship for a better offer.

Ain't it funny how the night moves, when you just don't seem to have as much to lose.

Grossner, President of PeopleFind Inc., a recruitment and outplacement firm in Markham, predicts more of the same in the future. 'The pace of change will continue to increase. Even if you want to stay with one employer, five years will be considered to be a substantial period.' The trend toward outsourcing and contracting is accelerating this situation.

Apa has a more sanguine outlook. He believes that managers will, by necessity, be transformed into leaders -- essentially moving from the authoritarian mode to being galvanizers who are part of a team effort. In turn, employees will benefit from a performance-driven culture that encourages recognition, empowerment, and self-actualization by means of achievement.

Grossner concurs, but adds that this can only be accomplished if processes for self-development to achieve realistic career aspirations are put in place.

What's the upshot? As I see it, mergers and acquisitions, economic volatility, globalization and the focus on short term profits mean that the unwritten contract between employer and employee will become progressively self-serving.

For employers, it's 'we'll purchase your services and give you what you need to do the job -- so long as we require what you provide.' The employee's mantra is more like 'we'll provide services for a reasonable fee and produce for you satisfactorily -- until something better comes along.'

As Seger sang, 'I used her, she used me, but neither one cared we were getting our share.' The question is, how long before either side concludes that their share is insufficient?

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