I have a few books I read over and over again; one is titled, “Hearts That We Broke Long Ago” written by Merle Shain. This book, published in the early 80s, is a fantastic read for both for personal and professional reasons.
Ms. Shain writes,
“Until one forgives, life is governed by an endless cycle of resentments and retaliations, and we spend our days scratching at the scabs on the wounds that we sustained long ago instead of letting them dry up and heal.”
I referred to this concept the other day when I spoke to a class about “Duty of Loyalty.”
Duty of Loyalty? What’s that?
The Duty of Loyalty is a common law precept that imposes on employees “loyalty” to their employers. Don’t get it confused with non-compete and non-solicitation agreements between employers and employees; the duty of loyalty that an employee owes an employer is “in place” even in the absence of a written agreement.
It’s not a difficult concept…just break it down by answering the question “what does it mean to be loyal?” Think of your spouse, your parents, your children, your best friend…what do you do or how do you behave if you are “loyal” to them?
- Are you honest with them?
- Are you faithful to them?
- Do you try to protect them?
- Do you ensure their best interests are kept a priority for you?
- Do you look past their shortcomings and/or their mistakes and move forward with a clean slate?
The answers, of course, are YES!
“Duty of Loyalty” is that simple, and I think both the employee and the employer owe it to each other.
Both parties need to be honest with each other
Whether it’s when the stakes are high, the revenues are low, the risk is great or the message is difficult, both parties need to be honest and forthright with each other. Without honesty, trust is lost and once trust is lost, productivity and engagement declines.
Both parties need to be faithful to each other
Our confidence is threatened when we see the other person looking over the fence, fishing elsewhere, etc. If we fear we’ll be replaced when “something better” pops up or if we live in a world where “shiny new pennies” are held over our ever-dulling heads, we will spend our mental and physical energy worrying about our future and security instead of focusing on our current work and desired results.
Both parties need to shield each other from harm
Many workplaces are already unpredictable and unstable on a variety of levels; people throw fireballs into our projects and shoot blame at the first sign of vulnerability. Stepping up and defending the team, helping preventing someone from making a mistake, protecting the boss from risk, etc., needs to happen more often in our workplaces. These “protective” behaviors put an end to the blame game and encourage the “we” or “team” mentality, which in turn increases commitment, accountability and engagement by everyone.
Both parties need to practice a little “selflessness”
There is way too much competition for attention, way too many “not my job or my problem” behaviors and way too many “bus injuries” occurring in the workplace. It’s high time for everyone to ask themselves, “what can I do to help?” and do it, regardless of their own desires. Only when we put aside our own needs and make a priority the needs of others will we see true commitment and increased productivity in the workplace.
And finally, loyalty demands forgiveness…which is why I thought of the passage from Ms. Shain’s book when I taught earlier this week.
Both parties need to forgive
Too many of us hold in our quivers the mistakes of others; we are ever ready to shoot these wrongdoings back when the time comes to draw blood. This must stop! Not only does it erode all trust and commitment the parties may have built over the years but it wastes precious energy.
People make mistakes, they harm others, or they exercise poor judgment. We all prove, time and time again, that we are imperfect. But when our coworkers, our boss or our employees refuse to forgive us, and hold over our heads all of our imperfections, we become paranoid or anxious about our future or we start to build up a list of their wrongdoings so we can shoot back when the time comes.
Would it not be a better use of energy and time if we discuss our imperfections and our mistakes and identify what, if anything, we can correct or improve upon in the future?
Duty of Loyalty may be a legal issue but I don’t believe using legal jargon to explain it betters our chances of having “loyal” employees.
I don’t believe complicating things improves the relationship.
I don’t believe making things “serious” and “formal” increases our potential for trust.
I don’t believe “requiring” loyalty results in commitment.
I do believe, however, that loyalty is reciprocal. If we demonstrate honesty, faithfulness, protection, selflessness and forgiveness to our employees and our employers, I believe these things will naturally return to us.
And when that happens, commitment, engagement and ultimately, increased productivity and performance, will occur.