Jun 28, 2012  •  In Career, Korean, Personal

Employer Loyalty: Cultural or Generational?

J has been offered a prestigious position at a new company. :-) You don’t know how stinkin’ proud I am — he always busts his behind at work to provide for our family, and he is finally being recognized for his dedication and hard work. He gave his two weeks notice yesterday, and will be starting at the other company in mid-July.

When I first informed my parents that J might be switching jobs, they were doubtful to say the least. Both of them prefer that J stay with his current company; they believe that if he works there long enough, he will eventually be promoted and eventually land a top position.

Frankly, they don’t understand why we “young people” continue to job-hop.

I couldn’t help but disagree with them, because J has been with 3 different companies since we first started dating almost 8 years ago — one of which was in a different state — so compared to our acquaintances, he actually has a good track record of employer loyalty.

I tried to explain to them that corporate America is the one that is not always loyal to its employees. Most large companies I know usually source their topmost positions externally, passing over those who have been with the company for years and may actually be better equipped for the job. Sure, there may be annual salary increases, but these tend to be in the 3-5% range, which is barely enough to cover inflation and the rising cost of living in many parts of the country.


Is the movie “Office Space” an accurate portrayal of corporate America?

At my first full-time job, my direct supervisor — who did not have the power to promote me or give me a raise — informed me that our VP — who did have the power to reward my good work — would never promote me anytime in the next 5 or so years. The reason? Because I was too good at my job. In my supervisor’s own words: “Why would she voluntarily give up someone who is doing her current job so well?”

I have been in positions where I have had to “train” my supervisors — people who had been hired externally and had no clue as to the inner workings of the company…or even their own jobs!

I have seen too many dedicated and hard-working people who have been at the same company for years and years…and all they have gotten in return are meager raises and/or paltry promotions.

Perhaps it is different in other fields. But from my experience and from what I see of my friends, the best (and easiest) way to get a decent promotion and a significant salary bump is to jump ship to another company.

I know where my parents are coming from. First-generation immigrants are known for their hard work, because they honestly believe that putting in more time and effort leads to more money and prominence. After all, isn’t that what the American Dream is about?

My parents are also from Korea, where — now, the situation may be different from when they were still living there 20+ years ago — companies reward loyal and reliable workers. Where staying with the same employer long-term would almost always guarantee that you will move up in ranks within the same company.

Take my uncle, for example. His very first job was splicing film reels at MBC (one of the major television networks in Korea) — a position that would barely qualify as entry-level. He stayed at the same company for his entire career, and eventually became VP of Broadcasting, then even the CEO of a child company.

Is staunch employee loyalty a cultural or generational phenomenon? Or is it a combination of both?

What is your own experience with the corporate world? Is my portrayal of the current corporate American accurate? Is it different in your field?

16 Responses to “Employer Loyalty: Cultural or Generational?”

  1. It’s only different if the manager is different.
    Organizations within industries can be very different from one another: either only promoting from within whether or not people are actually any good, hiring externally only because they lack the internal talent which points to a lack of coaching and management talent to begin with, or something in between.
    I fight tooth and nail to promote from within if I have employees worth promoting but I will never promote mediocre employees. So I always put them through the same promotion (ie: review) process when openings are available and have them compete for it. During the non-application period, I encourage them to grow their skill sets throughout the year so that they are competitive and have grown as employees and actually apply for openings as they come up.
    I want it to seem painful when they apply for a promotion: that means they have become more valuable. I’ve done my job and so have they, if that’s the case. If I don’t care when they leave, it means they were just taking up space. And if we’ve really done our jobs right, they’ll have passed some of their value down to their colleagues.
    They’re going to leave eventually – whether it’s going to be for a job I groomed them for or for a job they found elsewhere can be a choice we make together or I let them make on their own. Kind of a no brainer to my mind.

  2. zoe:

    Very interesting post, as my husband has recently left a very stable job at a well-known company, for essentially a start up (granted, a self-sustained start up). While my parents felt uneasy about the switch, my husband saw no future there, and felt he had exhausted his growth opportunities. While his direct supervisor always gave him glowing performance reviews, upper management always had some excuse for not promoting him, even though it was long overdue. He is only one of many of our friends who felt shafted by their companies, and are all currently looking for new employment. My parents have always been modest people, and while they don’t necessarily think sticking to a company will make you CEO someday, they believe in job stability, and that a stable job with lesser pay is better than a high paying job you could lose at any minute. But I think for us, now is the best time to make these changes, while we’re young and especially when we don’t have the responsibility of children yet. I work in academia, doing basic research, so it’s a little different – none of us make any money, haha

    Congrats to J and good luck to him at his new job! :)

  3. Congratulations to J! I’m interested to hear other people’s opinions on this. I have had very limited experience working for corporate America, but one company I worked for actually did promote from within. But I quit after a few months because I would literally lose the will to live if I had to sit in a cubicle and stare at the ceiling for another day.

  4. Hooray for J!
    And my answer is that it’s generational. I’ve gotten a lot of good career advice from my husband’s 88-year old grandfather, who worked for the same corporation from the time he came home after WWII until he retired in the late 1980s. He started in sales and worked his way up through the years, his employer paid for his MBA (which he earned over the course of 6 years, taking one night class at a time), and he eventually became an upper-level executive in the PR branch of the company. He’s told me plenty of times that that what he did just isn’t possible these days, as he’s seen his own corporation cut more and more corners when it comes to taking care of their employees. And they hire their managerial staff straight out of business school who have no experience with the company. “Nobody starts in sales anymore,” he says, “or if they do, they just stay there.”

  5. Yay for J! Your post says exactly what the BF told me about getting promotions. He’s only been at his current company for a few years (working in finance, at a Lehman Brothers-like firm) but he’s busy interviewing at other places where the pay, promotion potential, and bonuses will be bigger and better. You do have to jump around and if you’re too lazy to leave your rut, then you lose out. His superiors did not grow with his company, but came from other firms in order to be promoted to a new position at a different company.

    However, my knowledge of the law field is different. Attorneys jump around to different jobs to improve quality of life and to go into different sectors of the law. For example, many big law attorneys move to in-house counsel positions after several years, or from federal gov’t to big law. But if you want to make partner at a firm, you not only have to stay there for 5-12 years (however long the partnership track), you have to bust your ass work-wise. It’s not worth it for most attorneys so you move to jobs with better hours or substantive work and downsize their salary.

  6. It’s the plight of our generation. I’ve seen it as a widespread problem for a plethora of friends, all in different fields. As it stands now, I’m pretty sure I’ll never see a promotion at my job. Like you, I’m simply too competent at what I do. Being a hard worker is a liability nowadays. Failing upward is the name of the game. That, or like you said, jumping ship if you are a hard worker.

  7. S:

    Congrats to J! I think this is something that is, as LGP says, is the plight of our generation. As soon as I stepped into the work force in 2000 all I was told, all I read online and in publications, is that job hopping is the way to go and this is what I have experienced.

    At my last job I was there for nearly 4 years and received only one paltry raise and no hope of a promotion. Dismal!

    After working from home for the past couple of years while taking care of my son I’m planning on looking for a p/t job when he starts school. I’m scared of what’s out there.

  8. Congrats to J!

    Your first loyalty should be to yourself.

  9. Congrats to you guys! That is great news. Oh, I could tell you some stories about mediocre/clueless/completely unqualified higher ups in the DOE. Fortunately, my superiors are very well-qualified and supportive; others are not so lucky. 100% of the time, when a teacher chooses to leave, it’s because of the administration. Students become unruly/out of control and schools are ruined because administrators don’t know what they’re doing. I completely agree with J’s decision – I would not remain loyal to a company if it meant forsaking better pay/a better position.

  10. I agree with your analysis completely. I am not sure there are many companies out there that care about being loyal to their employees anymore. People give all they have and then one day are let go for no good reason. In my husbands field, the thing to do now is to hop from company to company, almost on a yearly basis. You get to increase your skill set, make more money, and prevent (for as long as possible) companies from being able to screw you over.

    I bet decreased customer service can be attributed to this as well. People don’t and can’t stay in one company long, people who aren’t qualified are hired, and no one is around who actually knows the product or skill they are trying to sell. If companies actually tried to take care of their employees, many problems in the corporate and retail world might be solved.

  11. My husband is dealing with a similar situation at the moment. We’ve only been out of college for a few years, so we’re still on the entry level side. He took on senior finance roles when someone went on maternity leave, and then kept her responsibilities when she decided to stay home. At his next performance review, he was then told that he’d get average marks even though he was doing an excellent job, because if they gave him above average marks, then they’d have to promote him and he was “too young” for that. But he’s still doing her extra responsibilities. Needless to say, he’s looking to jump ship – and for most of our friends, switching companies seems to be the only way to get recognition. I think it’s partially generational, partially the economy.

    Congrats to J!! It’s so wonderful to finally get the recognition you deserve!! :)

  12. MarcieT:

    Congrats to J and your family for this move up!
    There is much information on the interwebs about the cultural and generational shifts in attitude about job-hopping that have evolved in America. My own experiences doing so have led me to read a lot about this topic. Seth Godin, for one, tells business people outright that rewarding loyalty in lieu of rewarding talent, intellect, and innovation is damning to that company’s future. Others say the younger generations – our own since I’m near your age and those younger than us – have different expectations and thrive on the variety offered by changing jobs every 5 or so years (more frequently in some sectors like technology or design). I think the overall portrait that you provide is more true in the present, however. I’ve been faced several times with the “why would I promote you so I’d have to train someone to do your job half as well” issue, and I’ve worked for companies that refuse to reward loyalty by looking exclusively externally for higher positions. Times are changing; that’s just a simple reality. Keeping up with what’s best for YOUR family, and YOUR career, and within your present company, is the best approach regardless. If J decides to work with a smaller company that has a clearly outlined promotion track that rewards his productivity and years of loyalty, then he could choose to stay for however long he wants (those places do still exist, I’m told) Otherwise, what you describe is what you both feel is best for your situation for now, and it’s more common now than before.

  13. Ashley:

    First of all, congrats to J! What a great accomplishment!

    My husband and I have been discussing this a lot lately. He has worked for a very large Midwestern company for 5 years now and he’s been very happy with his rate of growth and opportunity. However, many of our friends are starting to jump ship (we live in a town where 60% of the population is employed – in some capacity or another – for this huge company). I think it’s much more common for employees to hop around now because pension programs aren’t what they once were. My husband’s company phased out the old-school (amazing) pension program several years before he began and the company now matches 401K contributions instead. Because you can take your 401K wherever you go, I just don’t think young employees are incentivized to stay on long-term (like they would be if wide-spread pension plans still existed).

    On the flip side, I’m a municipal employee and we do still have a pension retirement plan (for now at least! It’s a highly contentious issue in my state right now). I work with a lot of people who have been here 20+ years and at this point are just working until they can retire with our awesome retirement benefits. Our retirement system is in flux, though, and honestly, I think if our retirement plan is changed dramatically (and I actually think it should, but that’s not the point here!) a lot of our younger workers will probably move on to other jobs.

  14. Firstly, Congratulations to J on this achievement!!

    Secondly, I agree with your take on corporate America. I’ve been working in corporate world for 6 years now and have been busting my ass for my employers (e.g. staying later than anyone else to assist them in meeting deadlines when I’ve already finished my assigned work load ahead of schedule), yet all I’ve been rewarded is a 2% yearly salary increase. Big whoop. I was laid off from my previous company due to taskforce reduction. Yet a colleague of mine with lower performance reviews and less dedication and work remained employed. WTF?! When I started my new job, I was awarded a higher position/title and a slight pay increase. I’m currently on the search for a new position, and have noticed the opportunities I am looking into offer higher pay as well.

  15. I did come back to see what others were saying and realized I only commented wearing my manager’s hat. From an employee perspective, I have only not been promoted at 1 job and that was very early in my working life.

    It’s not been easy and I haven’t worked in truly corporate environments, nor were they true start-ups either, but I have always been exceedingly proactive in pushing for my promotions and gotten them after a long haul.

    In both, I was instrumental in creating and landing my own promotion, one way or another, and they were both significant jumps from my previous positions because of the size of the responsibility gap I’d taken on and the amount of evidence I produced to prove I was doing the job already. As much as I do see that there are fewer and fewer opportunities for people in our generation to be rewarded for their work with promotions and raises, I have been an active agent in creating the opportunity for myself. It is absolutely exhausting to keep having to pave that ground repeatedly, though, and having a boss who is on board or at least willing to hear you out and get on board is critical.

  16. I’ve talked about this issue a lot with friends (late 20s, early 30s, and the issue we keep coming back to is this: employee loyalty toward the employer is definitely dying. But our generation IS loyal to the relationships we have with the people we work with–whether or not they’re at our own company. We’re loyal to our networks, because we will need those people one day (and they’ll probably need us at some point), too.

    Loyalty’s not dead, but it’s different.

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