COMMENTARY, PART 4: Is loyalty extinct?

My father had one job for 44 years. I’ve had 11 in 45 years (plus summer jobs), including the one I have now – working for myself for 16 years.

Some difference! The workplace has changed.

In this, the fourth of six commentaries on sweeping changes in the workplace (find them at, we ask the question: is loyalty extinct?

In May 2009, I reported that I had reviewed resumes from 200 people who were in the workplace for the entire decade, and found that those 200 people held 947 jobs in those 9+ years.

Doing the math, 947 jobs divided by 200 people equaled 4.735 jobs per person since 1/1/2000, and the 9.33 years of the decade divided by the 4.735 jobs came to 1.97 years – or an average life expectancy of your job of 23 months and 20 days.

In an age of lateral careers, impersonal recruiting, and fleeting allegiances, the deep pain of the recession lingers, exacerbated by rampant mergers and acquisitions, ruthless layoffs, confounding (often, senseless) reorganizations, shrinking benefits, decreased training, routine outsourcing, shortened contracts, blatant inequities, and widening disparity between the powerful few and the powerless many.

For instance, when a global $40 billion company conducted three rounds of layoffs, shedding 1,400 jobs at its US headquarters – yet found $20+ billion in the same year to complete a hostile takeover of another key industry player – it was no wonder the results of the next year’s employee engagement survey were dismal and the ensuing two years saw many employees willfully pack up and leave, often for equal or even lower jobs. In decades past, this flight was improbable, but two newer characteristics of our current workplace – access to information and ease of mobility – enabled it. Employees fled like escapees.

Routinely, severance packages designed to preempt litigation – not display a scintilla of decency, care, compassion, or responsibility – were accepted resentfully but with little choice. Though outplacement services were offered, everyone knew this was “guilt money” and not concern. And while neutral references kept the employer out of court, you couldn’t get a positive word in your support when you needed it most, no matter how much you deserved it.

Not that blame lies only with employers. During the dot-com bubble, for example, countless skilled employees, attracted by freewheeling offers, readily and promiscuously picked up their skills, contact lists, and 401k plans on Friday and moved into their new employers’ cubicles on Monday – for considerably more money, which was all over the place in the roaring nineties. Remember?

Employers and employees both proved they could move forward without burdening themselves with the gross inconvenience of being loyal. And this growing disengagement has gone beyond the workplace into society in general. Look at these distressing voting turnout rates by age bracket in the 2012 election (Source: US Census): older than 75, 70.0 percent; 65-74, 73.5 percent; 45-64, 67.9 percent; 25-44, 57.3 percent; 18-24, 41.2 percent. If the relevance of voting turnout to job loyalty is not evident at first, consider that the data suggest that Gen Y and much of Gen X show a disinterest in, disregard for, and lack of commitment to the future. What, then, can they be expected to feel about their jobs?

Surveys abound measuring Americans’ dissatisfaction with their jobs. University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School reported last May that MetLife’s 10th annual survey placed employee loyalty at a seven-year low. Another survey reveals that one employee in three plans to leave his or her job within a year. Yet another showed that 76 percent of full-time workers, though not actively looking, would leave their current employer for the right opportunity.

This resembles just another round of betting in the poker game between employers and employees – “I’ll see your disloyal move and raise you one” – and the pot is growing.

Despite the formidable job market turnaround, there is no evidence of a parallel restoration of trust, faith, or loyalty, and the reason seems to be apparent. As younger Gen X-ers and all Gen Y-ers – the very same generation and a half who don’t know what the inside of a voting booth looks like – become a bigger portion of the workforce, they will also represent a bigger portion of the workforce to whom loyalty is either a foreign or a four-letter word.

I ask you to bear my skepticism and to look at this through the same lens I do, one that is clear and not rose-colored. Confident as I am about the strength and sustainability of the job market’s recovery in both the short and long term, I rarely hear from those in the younger half of the workforce who expect their next job to be their last job, their dream job, or even a long-term job. They have a different set of expectations about their careers, and will build a workforce based more on nomadic impulses than on commitment, stability, or seniority.

All this is not to say that the trend in diminishing loyalty is irreversible; hope drives us in the opposite direction. But it does, again, raise the question: is loyalty extinct?

Perhaps not, but for now, at least, it looks like an endangered species.

Next: The graying of the workforce


Career Coach Eli Amdur conducts workshops and one-on-one coaching in Job Search, Career Planning, Resumes, and Interviewing. Reach him at or 201-357-5844. Please visit and "like" him at