The Line Between Loyalty and Liability

The Line Between Loyalty and Liability

A Long Loyal Life

Even in a society that is seemingly growing in cynicism and jadedness, loyalty is still repeatedly documented as a highly desired and beneficial. Studies show that loyalty in long term relationships contribute to higher levels of life satisfaction and lower risk of hypertension, diabetes, and heart attack.  In fact, research from the RAND Center for the Study of Aging reports that married men in their 50s and up to 70s live significantly longer that their divorced and widowed contemporaries. Indeed, loyalty makes a difference in people’s personal lives.  But what about in business? What does the Bible say about being loyal? Is there a point where loyalty in our careers becomes a liability?

Loyalty or a Lien

In business, as in life, no one gets anywhere without the help of others. You may be born with talent, you may have mastered a skill, but opportunities to showcase them are most often nurtured or provided through other people. These people, in turn, benefit by having a connection to a rising star in the company and gain a reputation for cultivating next-generation leaders. This exchange creates a bond that only naturally results in a sense of loyalty. However, this bond turns into a burden when it’s held over us like an unpaid debt, a lien on our career life. When we respond to their request for assistance and support with even the slightest hesitation, we are habitually reminded of the interview they helped to secure for us or the introduction to the high potential client they arranged. The state of being beholden to them will go on indefinitely until we decide it’s time for it to end. The only option is to gently, but firmly, express our gratitude but inform them that we cannot continue in an obligatory business relationship. It’s a scary but necessary confrontation.

As a proactive measure, we must learn to discern like Abram did with the offer from the King of Sodom that opportunities from some people are really just attempts to oppress us (Genesis 14:21-24). We must know when to reject the offer of a “favor” in the present for the sake of a lien free future.

Loyalty For Sale

Let’s be honest, mutual benefits is a part of relationships. The business world is no different. There’s an expectation for some degree of a win-win benefit between both parties for the commitment of cooperating together and for one another. The sense of loyalty grows over time as the realization of the benefits of allegiance to the other person proves consistent. And even if and when the benefits may weigh heavier on one person’s side than the other, there is a trust that things will become more balanced when conditions allow. This is just the way people are wired and that’s ok. However, it’s not ok when loyalty is sold to the highest bidder like an auction. In this scenario, allegiance shifts with the ebb and flow of company politics.  Whoever appears to have the greatest influence or the most perceived power gets the loyalty…at least until there is a shift. Then the loyalty goes to the new “power player” and the cycle continues. The issue is this is not loyalty; it’s selfish ambition. And people aren’t stupid. It won’t take long before it becomes very evident that the only loyalty people like this have is to themselves. Having the reputation as a “user” is not easily shaken and can irreparably damage business relationships and, potentially, a career. The warning about the eternal judgement of God in Romans 2:8 also applies to the temporal judgement of people; there is only wrath and fury for the selfishly ambitious.

Loyalty with Benefits

For many years I believed (and was told) that the days of being loyal to a company were over and that it is was foolishly unbeneficial to contend otherwise. A study in 2006 by Dr. Kathryn Shaw of Stanford Business School for the National Bureau of Economics tells a different story. In her study of 50,000 software employees in Silicon Valley, she reports that employees with at least 5 years of experience with one company received an average of 8% increase in compensation annually, while their job-hopping contemporaries only received an average of 5%. A similar pattern was also found among workers in industries with less complex skill sets, such as car windshield installers. Notably, employees who stay with a single employer longer also demonstrate to be more productive and creative, making them even more desirable in the job market.

The Bible also tells many testimonies of the blessings for loyalty. Caleb was loyal to God even when almost everyone around Him wanted to abandon the pursuit of the Promised Land out of fear. He was blessed to have his descendants as one of the few to inherit the land (Numbers 13:27-14:24).  Ruth remained loyal to Naomi even when she lost everything and had nothing more to offer her.  She was blessed to become a matriarch in the lineage of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:5-16).

The key to loyalty being a benefit and not a liability is honesty and discernment. Honesty about what’s motivating your loyalty and discernment about when and how to demonstrate it.

Words for Syncing


Sync a little deeper…

What’s motivating your loyalty ties in the workplace?

Is there a person who you need to confront about making your loyalty obligatory?

Has your perspective about being loyal to a company changed since reading this post?

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