Learning to swim with the career currents

Learning to swim with the career currents

I recently heard a speaker at a conference describe a new kind of workplace loyalty: loyalty not to a particular company or a job, but to a team, a project or a career path.

The idea that loyalty is not dead but being redefined is intriguing. But my mail suggests that many people are still struggling with the old definition of loyalty and what they owe their employer. Questions from two readers shed some light on this dilemma.

`I am a software engineer and have been given a good [not great] offer to work for a company in another state,' one reader wrote to me recently. `They will pay to relocate me. I am not particularly jazzed about the company, but my wife and I are really excited to live in their area and for the com-pany to pay for our move. I don't see myself as a long-termer at this company. Given that they are paying to relocate me, how soon might I gracefully bow out if I determine that the job just isn't for me?'

Another reader wondered what he owes a company that pays for his training.

`I have been working for a company for the past five years, and took advantage of their tuition reimbursement program. I earned my MBA at their expense and my time,' the reader wrote. `The terms of this program state that I must be with the company for a full year after the last company-paid class. Is it improper or wrong to give your notice immediately following the dissolution of this agreement?'

This reader offered his own analysis of the situation. `The way I see it, there is no loyalty anymore, from the company or its employees. Basic respect has not gone out of style. I will of course offer the traditional two-weeks notice. I fulfilled my end of the agreement (by staying there for one full year), and the company made up the rule.'

The first issue that arises in these readers' questions is the distinction between legal agreements and ethical behaviour. As is the case with the reader whose company paid for his MBA, many companies require that you stay for a certain amount of time (a year is common) after they pay for a relocation or make a large expenditure for training. If you leave before that time is up, you have to pay back some or all of the money.

The reader who is pondering a relocation should first find out whether any such restrictions apply to his offer.

If they do, then he'll have to abide by them. But he'll still face a question similar to the one posed by the reader with the MBA: if there is no contractual requirement that he stay, is there any ethical or practical reason not to leave?

My guess is that most employees would say no. After all, the employer could have required a longer commitment in exchange for the benefit if it had wanted to.

However, no career advice applies perfectly to every situation. If you're pondering whether to leave an employer that has paid for training or a move, try to assess the potential damage to your professional relationships.

For example, some employers might remember the employee who left a year and a day after finishing his MBA as one who used the company's training program to advance his own career but wasn't concerned about the company. Does this matter? Perhaps.

Someday you may want to work for this com-pany again - or for a colleague from this company who has also moved on.

How do you define loyalty in today's workplace? How would you feel about an employee who left right after an agreement to stay ran out, if your company had invested heavily in the person's education or relocation?

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