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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?