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The reward for loyalty is more work

A group of employees attending a marketing presentation in a small conference room.

Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

Although career advice often suggests otherwise, it turns out that being a loyal employee is not the secret to getting ahead. Instead, loyalty makes you more likely to be exploited by your manager, according to research out of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and led by Matthew Stanley.

From the abstract (emphasis mine):

First, we found that loyal employees are selectively targeted by managers for exploitation in hypothetical scenarios (Studies 1–2), and that the targeting of these loyal workers is mediated by the expectation that loyal people are readily willing to make personal sacrifices for the objects of their loyalty (Study 1). These effects were specific to targets with reputations for loyalty (Study 2).

In other words, if you develop a reputation as a loyal employee, your manager may ask you to do more work without more pay, and perhaps without any chance for advancement. Companies value loyalty, because it provides great value to them. But it may create an unfair situation for you, and lead to career frustration.

The takeaway is not “be disloyal.” Disloyalty comes with its own risks. You should, however, consider whether the extra effort you're making is leading to extra reward. Are you receiving pay increases? Are you getting the opportunity to lead projects? Are you being positioned for advancement? Have a conversation with your manager about getting assignments that lead to career growth and increased compensation instead of assignments that leads to nowhere.

Hat tip: Does it pay to be a loyal employee? A new study says it may just result in extra work from MarketWatch.

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