Should you stay or should you go?

Should you stay or should you go?

For the information of all non- football fans, this year's English Premier League title has just been won by Manchester United.

Yawn, you might say. What do I care?

It's true that the result itself is not that exciting. What is interesting, however, is how it was achieved: with the help of new star striker Robin van Persie, who joined Man U last year after defecting from Arsenal, his football team of seven years.

While the move made commercial sense to all parties - Arsenal itself netted £24 million (S$46 million) from the transfer - van Persie's eager departure to a higher-ranking team was decried by Arsenal fans as nothing less than a heinous breach of loyalty.

Without van Persie, Arsenal now finds itself struggling just to chase a Champion League's place, while the club's supporters nurse their wounds with a sense of betrayal as keenly felt as the infidelity of a lover.

(I know this because my husband, a die-hard Arsenal fan, spent months turning every conversation topic to van Persie's perfidy. "How's the weather?" I would ask. "Cold... but not as cold as Robin van Persie's heart," he would reply bitterly.)

In our current age of short attention spans and supreme self-interests, expecting a salaried member of any organisation to display allegiance at work may seem outdated, if not naive.

Experts and laymen alike are only too happy to pronounce the demise of organisational loyalty: the notion of sticking with a boss, a job, or a football club, even at the expense of one's own personal goals.

As recently as a generation ago, when my own parents entered the workforce, lifelong employment was still a reasonable prospect.

You pledged your productive life to a firm, and it took care of you and your family in return.

But over the years, as companies grappled with increased global competition and sharper business cycles, they found it harder to keep up their end of the deal.

In return, employees - faced with the new realities of retrenchment, shorter contracts, overseas outsourcing and greater automation - turned to job-hopping to protect their own interests.

In Singapore, as in most of the world, surveys often show more people considering job moves and fewer planning to stay in the same organisation for an extended period of time, much less for life.

If you think about employment as just another business transaction, this makes sense.

Most workers - even professional football players - are tied to their jobs by nothing more than a contract.

As just one of many individuals in an organisation, and with countless potential replacements out in the workforce, there is also a strong temptation for each employee to feel little emotion when dealing with a faceless company.

As management professor Adam Cobb of the Wharton School of business puts it: "My loyalty to the firm is contingent on my firm's loyalty to me. But there is one party in that exchange which has tremendously more power, and that is the firm."

And yet the notion of organisational loyalty has proved remarkably resilient, at least in my own experience.

Watching Arsenal fans reel from the blow of being let down by a team member reminded me of all the conversations I've ever had with bosses stunned by the sudden resignations of cherished employees.

Some lamented the special attention that had been lavished but gone unappreciated. Others resented not being given a heads-up and the chance to make a counter-offer. One boss actually said: "How could (so-and-so) be so ungrateful as to quit?"

The fact is that because of the interpersonal relationships that everyone develops at work, a sense of attachment to the workplace almost inevitably grows.

You may feel loyal towards clients or suppliers who have trusted you, which translates into a sense of duty to stay in your job.

If your organisation has treated you well by giving you or your children a scholarship, or by providing assistance during the death of a loved one, you might also feel obliged not to leave.

Then, of course, there are the people you work with every day, for whom you may have gone out of your way to help or to whom you owe a career debt of gratitude.

When you are sitting across from a long-time colleague, either giving or receiving news of your departure or his, it is hard to completely shake off a deep-seated sense of disloyalty.

Such natural allegiance works in favour of organisations, which benefit from employees who are not just competent but also emotionally attached to their jobs.

But loyalty is a two-way street, and businesses should take steps to actively promote more robust bonds with their workers.

Studies show that in smaller firms, where relationships are closer and each employee takes on a wider range of responsibilities, there is a stronger sense of kinship within the company.

Taking a genuine interest in each worker's welfare and aligning his or her goals to that of the organisation are thus the most effective ways to build a sense of happiness and job satisfaction - and eventually loyalty - in the workplace.

Ultimately, whether organisational loyalty is still relevant in this day and age probably depends less on the employee than on the employer.

The good news is that although organisations often have the upper hand in the relationship, they too rely on the allegiance of their key members for survival.

This is a lesson Arsenal has learnt the hard way. Van Persie's only stated reason for leaving the club was the pursuit of more trophies - surely Arsenal's main goal as well.

If he had stayed and continued his prolific goal-scoring record, Arsenal may have managed to deliver that outcome one day. Having failed to secure van Persie's loyalty, however, the task looks to be a much more difficult one.

fiochan@sph.com.sg


Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.

Purchase this article for republication.

BRANDED CONTENT

SPONSORED CONTENT

Your daily good stuff - AsiaOne stories delivered straight to your inbox
By signing up, you agree to our Privacy policy and Terms and Conditions.