Does It Make Sense to Be a Loyal Employee?
Post on 24-Jan-2017
Does It Make Sense to Be a Loyal Employee?
Juan M. Elegido
Received: 8 February 2012 / Accepted: 4 September 2012 / Published online: 13 September 2012
Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012
Abstract Loyalty is a much-discussed topic among
business ethicists, but this discussion seems to have issued
in very few clear conclusions. This article builds on the
existing literature on the subject and attempts to ground a
definite conclusion on a limited topic: whether, and under
what conditions, it makes sense for an employee to offer
loyalty to his employer. The main ways in which loyalty to
ones employer can contribute to human flourishing are
that it makes the employee more trustworthy and therefore
more valuable as an employee; makes it easier to form
authentic relationships in other areas of the employees
life; expands the employees field of interests and gives her
or him a richer identity; provides greater motivation for the
employees work; makes it possible to have a greater unity
in the employees life; improves the performance of the
organization for which the employee works; contributes to
the protection of valuable social institutions; and, in so far
as many employees share an attitude of loyalty towards the
organization which employs them, it becomes possible for
this organization to become a true community. Last, but not
the least, loyal relationships have an inherent value. The
article also reviews the main arguments that have been
offered against employee loyalty and concludes that none
of them offers a reason why it would be inappropriate in all
cases for an employee to be loyal to her or his employer.
The force of these arguments depends on the specific
attributes of the organization for which the employee
works. The main conclusion of the article is that while
being a loyal employee involves risk, it has the potential to
contribute significantly to the employees fulfilment. The
main challenge for employees is to identify employers who
are worthy of being loyal to.
Keywords Loyalty Meaning in work Impliedemployment contract Employee commitment Community
It has become commonplace that the old implied employ-
ment contract under which employers offered employment
for life in return for the employees undivided attention and
devotion is dead (Anderson and Schalk 1998; Cappelli
2005; Dunford 1999; Hallock 2009). Supposedly, modern
economic conditions put a premium on employer flexibility
and employee mobility and have rendered that implied
contract unviable. However, serious questions have been
raised on how prevalent that supposed implied employment
contract ever was, at least in the Western world (Hall and
Moss 1998), on the extent to which the old contract is gone
(Jacoby 1999), and on the economic advantages of the free-
agent model (Hallock 2009). However that may be, my
own experience and that of other academics who teach in
programmes addressed to management practitioners is that
many young managers do not think of their relationship to
their current or future employers in terms of loyalty. Much
of the motivation for my writing this article stems from my
belief that these young managers are missing something
potentially important for their lives when they so casually
dismiss the possibility of a loyal relationship with their
Irrespective of the prevailing values in the world of
practice, the issue of loyalty is very much alive in business
J. M. Elegido (&)Lagos Business School, Pan-African University, 2, Ahmed
Onibudo Street, Victoria Island, Lagos, Nigeria
J Bus Ethics (2013) 116:495511
ethics journals and books. The appropriateness or other-
wise of giving or expecting loyalty in modern corporations
is kept being discussed, as the many references provided in
this article attest. However, no clear conclusion seems to
emerge from the recent studies on loyalty. Thus, among the
more prominent articles on the subject, Baron (1991),
Carbone (1997) and Duska (1997a) firmly reject the
appropriateness of loyalty for employees, Hajdin (2005)
does so for a large number of cases and Pfeiffer denies that
employees have a duty of loyalty, excepting only cases in
which such a duty may derive from an explicit pledge or
the creation of expectations. On the other side, Schrag
(2001), Corvino (2002) and Mele (2001) defend the
appropriateness of loyalty to employers. Randels (2001)
and Ewin (1993) offer qualified endorsements; for Randels
loyalty to ones employer is only appropriate where the
employer is a community and for Ewin where the employer
has socially beneficial goals.
Perhaps that lack of clear conclusions derives from the
fact that the contemporary academic discussion of loyalty
addresses many different issues. Among others: How
should loyalty be defined? Do employers have a moral duty
to be loyal to their employees? Does the managers loyalty
to her or his subordinates clash with her or his fiduciary
duties? Do employees have a moral duty to be loyal to their
employers? If this duty exists, does it clash with other
duties (i.e., that of blowing the whistle in appropriate
occasions)? In which ways and within what limits should
loyalty towards employers be manifested?
To increase the chances of making progress in the
investigation of loyalty in work settings, I will focus as
sharply as possible the discussion and will confine myself
to studying whether, and under what conditions, from the
point of view of the employees fulfilment, it is advisable
that he offer loyalty to his employer. I will not even pause
to ask whether employees have a moral duty to show
loyalty to their employers.
The employee fulfilment to which I refer in this article
should not be understood as being better off in purely
financial or hedonic terms. Throughout the article, I have in
mind an inclusive conception of human flourishing
according to which a person has lived a fulfilling life if at
the end it is possible to make an overall judgement that that
life was a good life, even if many particular aims of that
person were frustrated or had to be sacrificed, either
because of unfavourable circumstances or to attain more
important goals. Of course, there are many conceptions of
what is a good life, but in the context of this article, I wish
to leave this question as open as possible as the thesis I
defend here is compatible with many of them. Broadly
speaking, it should be possible to accommodate the theses I
uphold in this article within many types of preference-
satisfaction and objective-list conceptions of a good life.
The point of departure of many academic discussions of
this topic is the ordinary meaning of the term loyalty. This
has hampered the emergence of shared views as the term
loyalty can be defined in many different, though related,
ways and none of these is specially geared to making it
easier to arrive at definite conclusions in a process of moral
reasoning. To avoid these problems I will try to be very
clear about the concept of loyalty I use and, though I will
endeavour not to stray too far from common usage in
stipulating my use of the term, the main consideration I
will have in mind in fashioning my definition is to arrive at
a definition of loyalty that is suitable for the purpose of
moral argument and takes into account the lessons of past
discussions of professional loyalty.
So, my plan is to start by putting forward a clear defi-
nition of loyalty. Then, I will investigate whether, and
under what circumstances, it makes sense for an employee
to offer loyalty (in the sense defined) to her or his employer
by exploring in detail the arguments that can be offered in
favour of, and against, the thesis that professional loyalty is
conducive to an employees fulfilment.
A Definition of Employees Loyalty
For my purposes in this article, I wish to stipulate that
when I use the term loyalty, I will be referring to:
A deliberate commitment to further the best interests
of ones employer, even when doing so may demand
sacrificing some aspects of ones self-interest beyond
what would be required by ones legal and other
I do not put forward this definition because I think it
corresponds better than other alternative definitions which
could be offered to the way the term loyalty is commonly
used. While this definition is not purely idiosyncratic, the
main reason I offer it is that, at least under some circum-
stances, acting in that way towards their employers is likely
to make employees better off. I have crafted this definition
with an eye to staking out a defensible moral position in the
tradition of virtue ethics represented by philosophers like
Aristotle, Aquinas and MacIntyre.
I will now discuss the main elements of the definition I
This definition describes loyalty as a deliberate com-
mitment. By choosing this characterization, I am dissoci-
ating myself from an understanding of loyalty that sees it as
a sentiment, feeling, emotion or passion. I do not claim that
using the term loyalty when one is referring primarily to an
emotional attachment, as authors like Ewin (1993), Randels
(2001) and Hajdin (2005) have done, is wrong as a matter of
using correctly the English language. My main reason in not
496 J. M. Elegido
following them is that I consider that the discussion of the
emotion of loyalty (as variously defined by different writ-
ers) has yielded meagre and unreliable (from the point of
view of justifying practical directives) results. In my view,
the relative failure of this line of investigation is not sur-
prising. It is well understood that from a feeling, as such and
taken in itself, no moral conclusions follow; and also that it
is notoriously difficult to prescribe feelings. On the other
hand, in focusing on loyalty as something deliberately
chosen I follow many other well-respected authors such as
Royce (1908), Mele (2001), Vandekerckhove and Commers
(2004), Gonzalez and Guillen (2008) and Kleinig (2008).
I want to make it, however, clear that by defining loyalty
as a deliberate commitment, I am not trying to suggest that
loyalty is, or should be, detached from emotion. As a
matter of fact, the deliberate commitment will often be
motivated by feelings of attachment (Organ and Ryan
1995). In other cases, what started as a deliberate choice
will eventually produce those feelings of attachment
(Burris et al. 2008). Most commonly, the deliberate com-
mitment and the feelings of attachment will have grown in
parallel and, as I will discuss below, this fact provides a
reason why the deliberate commitment is worth making.
My definition also makes reference to the fact that
loyalty may demand sacrificing some aspects of ones self-
interest. The connection between loyalty and the willing-
ness to make sacrifices for the person, group or cause to
which one is loyal has been noted often (Duska 1997a;
Ewin 1993; Michalos 1981; Oldenquist 1982; Pfeiffer
1992; Schrag 2001).
For loyalty as I define it to exist, the loyal subject does
not have to be willing to sacrifice everything for the
employer to which one is loyal; the readiness to sacrifice
some aspects of ones self-interest will suffice. In making
this point, I am trying to distance myself from authors like
Royce (1908, pp. 1617) who states that [l]oyalty shall
mean the thoroughgoing devotion of a person to acause, and Ladd (1967, p. 97), who defines loyalty as a
wholehearted devotion to an object of some kind. It is a
false dichotomy to assume that if my employer is not the
centre of my life I can only relate to her or him in a purely
arms-length and instrumental basis. Loyalty is better
understood as a continuum than as a binary phenomenon;
accordingly, in my definition, loyalty to an employer is not
necessarily a matter of all or nothing but admits of degrees,
of more and less, and the fact that it is not wholehearted
does not imply that it does not exist at all. Thus understood,
it should also be noted that loyalty does not have to be
exclusive as could be the case if I had defined it in a more
totalizing way. It is possible for a person to have several
loyalties simultaneously. This aspect of my definition of
loyalty is shared by Oldenquist (1982), Ewin (1993) and
Provis (2005). Again, it should also be noted that, because
of the relative modesty of the definition of loyalty I offer,
no presumption arises that, as defined by me, loyalty has to
The definition refers to furthering the best interests of
ones employer. The employer does not necessarily have to
be a business organization, and this marks an important
difference between this article and many other academic
discussions of loyalty in the workplace such as those of Ewin
(1993), Haughey (1993), Mele (2001) Corvino (2002), and
Hajdin (2005), among many others. The employer could be a
university, an NGO, a research institute, a government
department or agency, a health organization, or a church. It
has great interest for my discussion that many young people
nowadays are opting to work for such employers rather than
for business organizations, often at a significant financial
cost to themselves, for reasons connected to the issue I dis-
cuss in this article (Perry 1997; Brewer et al. 2000). It is also
important to notice that while, as we will see below, the great
majority of arguments against employee loyalty are based on
developments in the business world; in practice they have
induced a general mistrust against the idea of loyalty to
employers of all types. By bringing other types of employers
explicitly into my discussion of this issue I hope to be able to
assess openly all relevant considerations.
The definition refers to the employers interests. These
interests can be furthered in many ways, and it is important
to stress that being loyal to ones employer is not just a
question of persisting in that employment relationship for a
very long time. One can express ones loyalty in other ways
such as avoiding gossip, mentoring younger employees,
going the extra mile with a customer, taking pains with
ones work, and being ready to work overtime even when
that is not personally convenient, among many others (Hart
and Thompson 2007). We can even talk, as Alvesson (2000)
has suggested, of post-exit loyalty when a former employee
maintains a readiness to foster the interest of a former
employer after the employment connection has been ter-
minated. Also, the mere fact of persisting in ones
employment for a long time will not necessarily express
loyalty in terms of my definition as it may not result from a
willingness to further ones employers interests, but may
instead be the result of purely self-regarding considerations.
It is well known that in most countries the economy
nowadays is much more dynamic than it was some decades
ago: companies are born and die more frequently and leading
companies lose their leadership positions faster (Clancy
1998). It is a necessary consequence of this fact that
employees will have to change employment more frequently
and therefore to promise a life-long employment relationship
may well be a very rash action. But this in no way shows that
other aspects of employee loyalty make no sense any longer.
In this article, I assume that an employees commitment to
the interests of the employer will often most naturally be
Does It Make Sense to Be a Loyal Employee? 497
expressed in a readiness to persist in the employment rela-
tionship for the long term. But how long this relationship will
last, and even whether this way of expressing loyalty is
appropriate, will to a great extent depend on many circum-
stantial factors and especially more so on the other com-
mitments of the employee (for very good reasons, loyalty to
their employers will not be the only loyalty, nor the most
important one, for most employees (Axinn 1994; Haughey
1993) and the characteristics of the employer. At any rate,
even if a long-term relationship is not appropriate in a given
case, it by no means follows that other ways of expressing the
employees commitment will also be inappropriate.
The definition I have put forward refers to a commit-
ment to further the employers best interests, not her or his
every want. Others before me have argued for such an
understanding of loyalty (Boatright 2003; Larmer 1992;
Michalos 1981; Stieb 2006).
My definition also refers to sacrificing ones interests
beyond what would be required by ones legal and other
moral duties. I take it for granted in this article that there are
very good reasons for employees to comply not only with
all the legal duties which attach to their position as
employees (among which is the legal duty of loyalty, that is
to say, the legal duty to act solely for the benefit of the
employer when engaging in any conduct that relates to the
employment), but also with any general moral duties such
as those which may result from previous (though perhaps
not legally enforceable) promises or from the fact of the
employee being given significant decision powers in the
understanding that they will be exercised to foster the
interests of the employer. It would be a false dichotomy to
assume that the only alternative to an employee being loyal
(in the sense of my definition) is for her or him to be dis-
loyal. It is possible not to be loyal without being disloyal or
in any other way unethical (Ewin 1993; Schrag 2001). As
Pfeiffer (1992, p. 536) has observed: One may be described
or viewed as a valued employee at the same time one is not
properly a loyal one (sic). One can do ones job well, be
respected and valued by ones employer, yet plainly lack
any particular allegiance to the employer. One might
explain that one is looking for a better job, is happy to have
this one for now, and will work honestly and well until the
better one arrives. An employer may accept this explana-
tion, not branding the employee as the least bit disloyal.
What I am trying to investigate in this article is whether
there are good reasons for employees to go voluntarily
beyond the demands of this legal and moral baseline.
Finally, in view of the contrary position of a good
number of authors (De George 1993; Duska 1997a; Hart
and Thompson 2007; Hartman 1996; Reichheld 1996;
Solomon 1997; Vandekerckhove and Commers 2004), it
will be useful to point out that my definition does not
require that loyalty be reciprocal. Even though I have
explicitly introduced my own definition as a stipulative one
and therefore, strictly speaking, it needs no defence but only
consistency in my use of it, as so many, and so competent,
writers have taken a line different from mine, it may be
useful if I try to account for my own approach. In the first
place, I have tried to avoid being idiosyncratic. Cases like
the mother who persists in being loyally committed to her
disloyal son show that common usage does not insist on
reciprocity as a requirement of loyalty. Also, several moral
philosophers (Hajdin 2005; Larmer 1992; Randels 2001;
Stieb 2006) have adopted definitions of loyalty which do not
require an element of reciprocity. Finally, it may be useful
to note that several of the philosophers who include reci-
procity in their treatment of loyalty are well-known Aris-
totelians who probably have in mind the paradigmatic case
of loyalty between friends. Aristotle famously taught that
mutuality is a requirement of friendship (Nicomachean
Ethics VIII and IX). For my own purpose of studying the
attitudes appropriate to an employee who is seeking fulfil-
ment in his work, importing into my discussion the stronger
requirements of friendship in its focal instances makes little
Arguments for Loyalty to Ones Employer
A committed and loyal relationship between employee and
employer has been seen as a desirable arrangement by
many people. Even if, as it has been widely reported, many
employers and employees no longer see it as practicable, or
even desirable, in current circumstances, it will be useful to
try and start by understanding its potential benefits. I will
pay no attention here to the likely advantages to the
employer from that type of relationship (except insofar as
they may result in benefits for the employee), as doing so
would lead me beyond the scope of this article. I will
concentrate instead on examining the arguments which can
be offered in defence of the position that for an employee
to offer loyaltyas defined aboveto her or his employer
might indeed be conducive to making for herself or himself
the best life she or he possibly can.
At this stage it may be useful to repeat that it is not my
purpose to argue that employees generally have a duty of
loyalty to their employers. My aim in this article is just to
show that it may well be in the interests of the employees
themselves to be loyal, in the sense that adopting this
attitude towards their employers may help them to live a
more fulfilling life.
Loyalty and Human Flourishing
As the main point of this article is that being loyal as an
employee can be conducive to human flourishing, it may
498 J. M. Elegido
be useful to clarify the relationship between loyalty and
Loyalty, along the lines I defined it above is a form of
commitment, and for my purposes here can be best
understood as an aspect of friendship. A useful approach to
this matter can be found in the interpretation that the
Oxford philosopher John Finnis offers of the teaching of
Aristotle on friendship. As Finnis understands this, the core
of a relationship of friendship is that two parties are in
such a relationship to each other that each wants the other
to be better off, and find some satisfaction or even joy in
the others success. (Finnis 2011a, p. 99; a moredetailed treatment can be found in Finnis 2011c,
pp. 14144). Like Aristotle, Finnis considers that the cen-
tral case of friendship is that in which each friend is
identified with the other on account of the other being a
For Aristotle, friendship is an important aspect of
human flourishing and he says things such as: a good
friend is by nature desirable for a good man, [friendship]
is necessary for living, the happy man needs friends,
[n]obody would choose to live without friends even if he
had all the other good things and friends are considered
to be the greatest of external goods (Nicomachean Ethics
VIII, i and IX, ix).
In several of his writings, Finnis has offered a detailed
study of the different aspects of human flourishing. He has
endeavoured to offer complete lists of these aspects (Finnis
2011c, pp. 9092). There has been an evolution in Finnis
thought and there are differences between the different lists
he has put forward, but the category of friendship has found
a place in all of them. Without entering here into the details
of Finnis position, he says of friendship, as defined above,
that this sort of state of things between us is really better
than the state of things which obtains when each is coldly
indifferent to the others success or failure (Finnis2011a, p. 99) and that we come to see this early in life by
an act of underived insight after we have had some expe-
rience of human relationships. The core of that insight is
that relationships of friendship are (i) possible and (ii) an
advantagea desirable beneficial possibility, something to
be pursued, not only for their utility as a means to satis-
fying other desires, but as something good in itself that is
constitutive of the fulfilment of a person (cf. the more
detailed analysis of insight into the goodness of knowledge
that Finnis offers in Finnis 2011a, pp. 8990). Studying in
detail Finnis understanding of the aspects of human fulf-
ilment and his explanation of how we come to know that
they are indeed fulfilling and not merely what some people
happen to desire, would take us too far from the topic of
this article. For my present purposes, it is enough to notice
that Finnis argues that being involved in relations of
friendship in its various forms, from the most intense to the
most diluted, is not merely something conducive to human
flourishing, but an aspect of that flourishing.1
Beyond the assertions and arguments of Aristotle and
Finnis, I would also like to point out that very few people
would like to have to deny the value of friendship; more-
over, even though it is possible for somebody to deny it
verbally, that person will be unable to avoid inconsistency
for he or she will act in many ways which are only
explicable on the basis of an implicit acceptance of that
value of friendship which he or she denies.
A possible difficulty in approaching loyalty to ones
employer as a form of friendship is that Aristotle himself,
near the beginning of his treatment of friendship (Nicho-
machean Ethics VIII, (iii), distinguishes three varieties or
species of friendship: friendship of goodness, friendship of
pleasure and friendship of utility, and he explicitly states
that only the first class is true friendship (VIII, vi), perfect
of its kind, while the last two are secondary forms of
friendship (VIII, vi), are grounded on an inessential fac-
tor (VIII, iii), are of a less genuine kind (VIII, iv) and can
easily be dissolved (VIII, iii). Should we conclude from this
that a relationship with ones employer can at best become
one of these inferior types of friendship and that, though
perhaps it may be useful for some purposes, it cannot pos-
sibly be an aspect of true human flourishing? This conclu-
sion would most likely not be justified even in respect of
Aristotle. In his discussion of friendship, he makes refer-
ence to many other types of friendship that, while they are
not instances of the focal case of friendship between two
mature good men, are not either instances of any of the two
secondary forms of friendship (pleasure and utility) which
he specifically identifies. Examples are the mutual friend-
liness between members of the human species (VIII, i);friendship among the members of a community (VIII, i and
ix) or the citizens of a state (IX, vi), between parents and
their children (VIII, i), brothers (VIII, ix), and husband and
wife (VIII, vii), among those serving on the same ship or in
the same force (VIII, ix) or among members of the same
social club (VIII, xi). All these cases of friendship can be
best thought of as derivative instances of the concept
(becausein Aristotles viewthey do not instantiate to
the full all the traits of the central case) but are still good and
valuable as they exhibit some of these traits.
Probably a better way of thinking of the wide variety of
cases that share a certain family resemblance with the
central case of friendship, and which fail to exhibit to the
full its valuable traits, but do not have any traits that are
1 Few well-known philosophers have undertaken to identify the main
aspects of human flourishing and they have not necessarily used that
term to characterize the objective of their efforts. It is interesting to
note that among the few who are known to me to have worked on this
issue both Moore (1993) and Frankena (1973) coincide in concluding
that friendship is intrinsically good.
Does It Make Sense to Be a Loyal Employee? 499
negative in themselves, is to consider friendship, as Finnis
does, within the wider matrix of harmony. Finnis con-
siders several types of harmonious relations including
harmony within oneself (between ones feelings and ones
judgments [inner integrity], and between ones judgments
and ones behaviour [authenticity] [Finnis 2011b, p. 244
n.]), harmony between persons in its various forms and
strengths (Finnis 2011b, p. 244 n.) and harmony with the
widest reaches and most ultimate source of all reality,
including meaning and value (Finnis 2011b, p. 244 n).
There are many types of harmony between persons rang-
ing, in the number of people they include, from the love
between two lovers to the possible harmony among all
human beings, throughto refer only to instances to which
Finnis refers in his writingsharmony among fellow citi-
zens, neighbours, family members, people sharing the same
workplace or the same city. Finnis himself refers most
generally to the range of forms of human community/
society/friendship (Finnis 2011c, p. 135) and explicitly
makes this whole range the subject matter of his own study.
These cases differ widely in the intensity of the relation-
ship, and the importance of its subject matter, but we can
find in all of them a certain form of harmony which we
understand is valuable and attractive. This value and
attractiveness can be made clearer by pointing at its simi-
larities with the focal case of this family of relationships in
Aristotles view: the friendship between two good people.
I hope these summary comments go some way towards
clarifying both how the relationship among the members of
a large body can display this type of valuable harmony, and
that that harmony is indeed a form of friendship whose
intrinsic value, as illuminated by the consideration of more
focal cases of friendship, derives from the members of that
body sharing in common goals and being committed to the
well-being of the other members, though perhaps without
the intensity and even exclusivity that is typical of the
central cases of friendship.
Up to this point in this subsection of this article, I have
not referred to loyalty. I still have to show how loyalty itself
may be an aspect of human flourishing. Here again Aristotle
can be a good guide. In his treatment of friendship, he
observes that friendship will be more perfect on account of
the time it lasts (Nicomachean Ethics VIII, iv) or better, in
view of his whole argument (in VIII, iii and iv), on account
of its intrinsic capacity to be longer-lasting. He also says
that it is probably the better course to visit friends in
misfortune readily, and without waiting to be invited, for it
is the part of a friend to do a kindness, particularly to those
who are in need, and have not asked for it (IX, xi).2 Along
the same lines, Finnis observes that stability of relationship
is one of the greatest goods that I can bring my friend by
being his friend; to be a fair-weather friend is one of the
ways of not being a real friend but of merely seeming so
(Finnis 2011a, p. 110). I will have more to say about this
later in this article, but for now I hope that I have at least
laid some basic groundwork for understanding how loyalty
is both an important disposition for preserving friendship
and indeed an important aspect of the more valuable types
of friendship; it is in that way that loyal relationships can be
themselves aspects of human flourishing.
Most philosophers who have examined the issue, rep-
resenting different schools of thought, converge on the
conclusion that, generally speaking, loyalty is indeed a
good thing as it makes possible forms of human flourishing
that could not obtain otherwise (Hare 1981; Oldenquist
1982; Sandel 2009; Williams 1981). Kleinig (2008, p. 4.
See also Ladd 1967) concludes a survey of recent philo-
sophical work on loyalty by stating that [w]hat is almost
certainly arguable is that a person who is completely
devoid of loyalties would be deficient as a person under-
stood inter alia as a moral agent. To have loyalties means
to have a stable identity which is defined by them and a
narrative structure in ones life. Not to have loyalties
means to live from one preference to the next, from one
fleeting moment to another. And, moving down from the
rarefied heights of academic philosophy to the world of
ordinary people, perhaps nothing makes so clear how
widely loyalty is valued and how much many individuals
crave it as an observation of the strong attachment of
countless people to different sports clubs.
This subsection has been devoted to the task of clari-
fying how, even in the context of non-intimate relation-
ships, loyalty can contribute in important ways to human
flourishing. Indeed, this is something that few deny, and I
take this position for granted in the rest of this article. The
point that is not clear to many people, which many actually
deny, and which I study in this article, is whether loyalty to
ones employer can be a form of this fulfilling loyalty.
Loyal Employees Tend to Have Greater Motivation
Having a higher motivation to work matters in many ways,
not only because high performance at work is an important
contributor to psychological well-being (Robertson and
Cooper 2011), but also, and importantly, because working
well is in itself an intrinsic aspect of human fulfilment
(Alkire 2000, 2005; Finnis 1992, 2011c); accordingly,
anything that facilitates our working well, provided that
2 Aristotle also makes points similar to those set out in this section,
though generally in a less elaborate form, in his Eudemian Ethics.
Among the issues he treats are the value of friendship (Eudemian
Footnote 2 continued
Ethics VII, i, xi and xii), the various forms of friendship (VII, i and x)
and loyalty in friendship (VII, i and v).
500 J. M. Elegido
that work is ethically sound, facilitates our overall human
Loyalty towards her or his employer can increase an
employees motivation to work in two main ways. In the
first place, the fact that our moods and emotions change
frequently and quickly means that without stabilizers like
loyalty, we are unlikely to sustain effort and dedication and
therefore unlikely to attain objectives which are inherently
difficult and call for sustained dedication in the face of
obstacles, as is often the case with professional objectives,
especially ambitious ones.
Second, all things being equal, working in what is our
own is more motivating than merely doing what we have
undertaken to do in exchange for some pay. Our work is
likely to be more interesting and stimulating if it is devoted
to furthering a project we see as our own than if we see
ourselves as having rented out part of our time for it to be
devoted to the advancement of somebody elses aims.
Of course, a purely instrumental approach to work can
be avoided also in other ways, such as by being committed
to ones profession. Thus, many academics have a strong
commitment to their academic field and a much more
tenuous one to the institution in which they happen to
work. Still, in many cases, one commitment does not have
to exclude the other and, for many people, unlike for
academics, a strong loyalty to their field of work is not a
very realistic option. Other things being equal, identifica-
tion with the organizations which employ them will
increase the work motivation of most people (Bakker and
Schaufeli 2008; Demerouti and Cropanzano 2011; Rosanas
and Velilla 2003; Yoon et al. 1994).
Loyal Employees are More Trustworthy
A loyal employee is inherently more trustworthy and, as
Frank (1988) has argued, trustworthiness is not something
that remains locked up in a persons mind and is inacces-
sible to observation by others. Very much on the contrary,
while trustworthiness, like other aspects of ones character,
can be faked, it is not a foregone conclusion that others will
be systematically deceived by a false facade. Many of us
are not good actors, and many signs of trustworthiness are
observable even after a very short acquaintance and espe-
cially so if the acquaintance lasts longer. Thus, by and
large, the actual degree of trustworthiness of somebody is
more often than not perceived by others and that makes
loyal employees more attractive to employers than disloyal
ones. In so far as this is the case, this provides a reason to
develop the character of a loyal employee, for the chances
are that just faking such a character will not work as well
for this purpose as actually having it.
This point should not be misunderstood. I am not
arguing that being attractive to employers is an intrinsically
valuable aspect of human flourishing or that failing to be
attractive to them makes human flourishing impossible.
Living a good life depends crucially on the soundness of
the ultimate aims one pursues and on developing the right
character and the right relationships with others. Still, as
Aristotle argued, even goods of fortune also play a role,
even if it is a subordinate one, in living a good life and,
especially in the case of a professional person, this in a
large measure includes professional success.
I am not even recommending that employees be loyal to
their employers in order to become more attractive to them,
something which, far from helping them live a better life,
would be likely to erode their character and self-respect.
My argument is not similar to that of those who recom-
mend being ethical because it is the safer and surer way to
become successful and wealthy. It is more in the line of
those who recommend being ethical because it is the way
to live a good life, but still pause to remark that one should
not take it for granted that ethical principles are a short
route to destitution. While it is true that living ethically in
no way guarantees worldly success and good fortune, it is
also true, and worth repeating, that acting ethically is
intrinsically connected with, and certainly facilitates,
working well and creating value for ones customers or
clients; it is also connected, though more contingently, with
doing well in ones professional life. Similarly, being loyal
towards ones employer, something for which, as we will
see, there are more fundamental reasons, is not necessarily,
as so many young people seem to believe, an obstacle to
career advancement; it can well be a factor in ones pro-
fessional success. This is not the most important thing that
can be said for loyalty to ones employer, among other
things because the connection between loyalty and pro-
fessional advancement is far from a sure thing, but it is still
Loyal Employees Improve the Performance
of the Organizations for Which They Work and in This
Way Benefit Themselves
The ways in which a work organization benefits from
having loyal employees have been well studied (Harter
et al. 2009; McCarthy 1997; Reichheld 1996). Organiza-
tions with loyal employees save on significant replacement
costs. An organization can more confidently delegate
authority to a loyal employee without fearing that the
authority will be misused in self-serving ways (Hambrick
and Jackson 2000; Vandekerckhove and Commers 2004),
and in the complex and fast-changing environments which
are characteristic nowadays, the ability to delegate
authority to employees who are closer to the action is
advantageous; conversely, a work organization that is not
able to delegate decision-making authority to employees
Does It Make Sense to Be a Loyal Employee? 501
lower in the hierarchy is hampered in its ability to react
fast and appropriately to changes in its environment. There
are other wayshighly beneficial to itselfin which an
organization can act with regards to loyal employees,
which are not available, at least to the same extent, in
relation to employees who are not loyal. Examples include
making significant investments in the training of employ-
ees (Hartman 1994; Schrag 2001) and disclosing to them
confidential information. Loyal employees who remain
long term with an organization are also essential for the
preservation of the organizations institutional memory
(Reichheld 1996). Hirschman (1970, 1974) has argued that
organizational deficiencies can be corrected either by
voice (expressing dissatisfaction and making efforts to
improve things) or by exit (leaving the organization when
its performance declines) and that loyalty delays exit and
encourages voice, which is more effective in improving
organizations. Finally, organizations are more effective
when loyal employees exhibit organizational citizenship
behaviour, that is to say, when they act in spontaneous and
innovative ways which go beyond role requirements
(Deckop et al. 1999), especially in the fast-expanding
service sector in which it is more difficult to directly
supervise employees (Herzenberg et al. 1998).
Having a single loyal employee is valuable, but the
organization which has a critical mass of such employees
enjoys a definite strategic advantage: such organization
will be able to act in ways which other organizations
working in the same field will find it difficult to imitate
(McCarthy 1997; Senge et al. 1999; Walton 1985; Watkins
2003; Wood 1996; Wood and Albanese 1995; Wood and
de Menezes 1998).
The whole argument set out in the two preceding
paragraphs by itself shows that having loyal employees is
very advantageous for the organizations which employ
them, but not immediately for the employees themselves.
However, in so far as working for a more successful
employer makes the employee better off, this is already an
employee benefit and, more significantly, in so far as
employees are loyal towards their employers and identify
with them, the distinction between the interests of the
employer and those of the employee blurs: if I identify with
the objectives of my employer and her or his goals (or at
least some of them) are treated as my own goalsthe fact
that my employer is more successful in reaching her or his
goals makes me ipso facto more successful in reaching my
Loyal Employees Make a Special Contribution
to the Wider Society
By being loyal employees also contribute to the general
good of the society, not only to the prosperity of their own
employers. Loyal employees make it easier for new orga-
nizations to grow and existing ones to survive in ways that
are favourable to the creation and preservation of social
capital (Hirschman 1970, 1974). In other words, when
employees are loyal, at least to a certain extent, to their
own employers, they protect valuable social institutions
that contribute to the satisfaction of human needs. As the
previous one, this argument is not directly an argument that
the employee is better off for being loyal. But so far as the
employees care not only for their own immediate interests,
but also for those of the wider society, they are better off by
the society being better off.
Loyalty at Work Makes It Easier to Have Committed
Relationships in Other Areas of the Employees Life
Fears have been expressed that a strong commitment by
employees to their jobs or their employers will make it
difficult for them to accommodate strong commitments in
other aspects of their lives (Korman et al. 1981; Randall
1987; Whyte 1956). However, research on employee
commitment has found a positive relationship between the
work and non-work attitudes of employees (Romzek 1985,
1989; Staines 1980). This is not surprising. A basic insight
of virtue ethics, which many who are not paid-up members
of this school of thought accept, is that our choices, espe-
cially important choices made repeatedly, shape our char-
acter. An employee who often chooses not to act loyally in
occasions when acting loyally could be appropriate is
shaping himselfpro tantoas a person for whom loyalty
is not a valued trait of character. Therefore, acting without
loyalty in a significant area of our lives such as work will
tend to make it more difficult to be consistently loyal in
other spheres such as marriage, family or friendships. Of
course, less loyal marriages, families or friendships just
mean less strong marriages, families or friendships, as
loyalty in those relationships is constitutive of the rela-
Loyalty at Work Expands the Employees Field
of Interests to Additional Choice-Worthy Objectives
It has often been observed that loyalty is closely related
tosome, though not myself, argue that it is constituted
bythe phenomenon of identification with another (Klei-
nig 2008; Oldenquist 1982; Rosanas and Velilla 2003;
Schrag 2001; Stieb 2006). A father, for instance, identifies
with his son in the sense that he experiences his sons
successes and failures as his own. In relation to the type of
loyalty which interests us here, it is possible for a person to
be identified with the organization for which he or she
works, to the point that he or she sees its successes and
failures as his or her own (Ewin 1993; Rousseau 1998;
502 J. M. Elegido
Stieb 2006). We have already said that if a person identifies
in this way with her or his employer, then the fact that an
organization benefits from having loyal employees
becomes itself a reason for an employee to be loyal. What I
want to add now is that having this type of identification
with my employer makes me better off.
I have defined loyalty as a deliberate commitment and
therefore loyalty itself, as I have defined it, is not identical
with identification. But being deliberately committed to an
organization identifies me progressively with it, and this
allows me to make my own Randels (2001, pp. 3132)
observation that [a]s loyalty develops, [the object of loy-
alty] becomes no longer strictly external, but is linked to
ones self-identity and helps to provide meaning for ones
life. In so far as I act loyally towards my employer, I
progressively identify with her or him and thus expand the
universe of objects that matter to me; through this new
relationship I further define my identity (Fletcher 1993;
Ladd 1967; Oldenquist 1982; Royce 1908; Schrag 2001;
Solomon 1990; Stryker and Serpe 1994) and add a new
source of meaning to my life, that is to say, I come to see
my life as being more significant. Of course, it is quite
possible that my employer is not worthy of my allegiance
(people have been loyal to the Nazi party, the Ku-Klux-
Klan or the Mafia) and this relationship may end up
impoverishing rather than enriching me, and the new
source of meaning in my life prove illusory. This may
happen but does not have to happen: any organization
which contributes in a non-exploitative way to the satis-
faction of human needs can become a pole of a perhaps
modest, but real enriching relationship for the people who
work in it and identify with it, a new way of linking their
lives and activities to a larger purpose, of strengthening
their sense that they are of value to the world. The argu-
ment in favour of going beyond a purely arms-length
relationship with ones employer is then that, acting loyally
towards it, will result in identification with it, and in so far
as its objectives are worthy of a reasonable persons alle-
giance, this will enrich ones interests and identity and
provide additional meaning to ones life.
The fact that being a loyal employee can add meaning to
the employees life is significant as, under the conditions
that currently obtain in many countries, meaning is not
something that is handed down more or less automatically
from generation to generation and can now be taken for
granted, but rather something that many people have to
search for actively (Battista and Almond 1973; Heelas
et al. 1996). Living lives which are experienced as mean-
ingful is important; people who find their lives insuffi-
ciently meaningful, who feel that what they are doing is not
worthwhile and serves no useful purpose, are deprived in
significant ways (Baumeister 1991; Baumeister and Wilson
1996; Debats et al. 1993; Frankl 1978; Weinstein and
Work can provide meaning for ones life in other ways
also, such as through its intrinsic interest, through the
contribution it makes to the fulfilment of other human
beings, or by identifying with ones profession (rather than
with ones employer). Each of these sources of work-
related meaning can be worthwhile, but usually none of
them has to be exclusive and preclude the others; more
specifically, the commitments to ones work and to ones
profession do not have to be incompatible with each other
(Alvesson 2000; Grey 1998; Romzek 1989; Wallace 1995);
therefore, even for persons who are strongly committed to
their professions, loyalty to ones employer may well be a
source of additional enrichment for their lives.
Greater Unity in the Employees Life
Still another way in which the greater identification with
the organization which results from choosing to be loyal
towards it benefits the employee is that it reduces the
compartmentalization of his life among unconnected
spheres that is so typical of modern life and which so often
results in the loss of a sense of self (Fletcher 1993; Korman
et al. 1981; Randels 2001).In so far as our actions pursue
different goals which are not related to each other and
cannot be integrated within a unifying framework, our life
as a whole cannot be organized into a coherent story, lit-
erally it cannot be understood (Baumeister and Wilson
1996; McAdams 1993). But if the success of the organi-
zation for which I work is one of my own objectives, the
significant portion of my waking hours which I devote to
work will be better integrated with the rest of my life, will
be part of my own story. As Royce (1908, p. 8) has said
Loyalty tends to unify life, to give it centre, fixity,stability.
Loyal Employees Help Make the Organization a True
If a critical mass of the employees of a work organization
become loyal, in the sense I have defined, then in the words
of Gilbert (2001, p. 5), strangers grow into neighbours and
collaborators and the organization can become a true
community in which the members have a sense of
belonging, in which there is a certain identification of
interests among them, and in which they can find social and
emotional support and practical assistance when they face
difficulties at work or in their personal lives outside work
(Hecksher 1995; Mele 2001; Oldenquist 1982). Also, in so
far as an organization is a community the quality of social
interaction and personal relationships in it is enhanced.
Does It Make Sense to Be a Loyal Employee? 503
A work organization whose members are totally lacking
in loyalty and commitment towards it does not necessarily
have to be a terrible place. Even in the absence of any
loyalty or commitment, and even if ultimately each par-
ticipant is exclusively interested in advancing his or her
own interests, it is still possible, at least in principle, to
have an arms-length relationship in which all parties are
strictly dutiful and law-abiding and punctiliously do all
they undertook to do. But even in this best of all possible
alternatives to loyal relationships something of great
importance for human flourishing would be missing
(Baumeister and Leary 1995; Myers 1992). The dynamics
of such workplace would force each employee to restrict
his or her concern to the defence of his or her own indi-
vidual interests and to try to get as much as possible for
himself/herself at the least possible cost. To work for an
organization in which that is everybodys attitude would
entail that the aspect of a persons life to which she or he
devotes the greatest number of hours and one of those that
she or he perceives as more significant, would have to be
organized along the lines of a strict individualism, which
excludes radically any bonds of solidarity. Any ethical
doctrine that considers that attitudes like identification with
others, love of neighbour, or solidarity, are fundamental
requirements of personal fulfilment will necessarily per-
ceive fundamental defects in such a workplace.
The possibility of a work organization becoming a true
community becomes more important and appealing now-
adays when many traditional sources of community are
becoming weaker (Putnam 2001). In this connection,
Estlund (2003, p. 28) has reported that for most American
workers their sense of community and belonging is
increasingly linked to their place of work rather than to
community, civic or religious groups.
Loyal Relationships Have an Inherent Value
Up to this point I might have given the impression that the
value of loyalty to ones employer is purely instrumental.
But that is not the case. It is true that being a loyal
employee is instrumental for many other benefits that stand
outside loyalty itself, but this is not incompatible with
loyalty towards ones employer having also an intrinsic
value, even in cases where that loyalty may not be corre-
sponded or, more generally, in cases in which for one
reason or another, the benefits to which I have made ref-
erence in the preceding paragraphs may fail to materialize.
Gilbert has hinted in this direction:
[T]hese people stayed and accomplished connections
and affinity for one another that defied forces that
once made such accomplishments improbable. True,
some of their devotion went unrecognized and
unrewarded. But, by this grammar of staying here
together, for a while, improbably, the act of staying
anchored in some place is and was the meaningful
consequence (2001, p. 6). (Italics in the original)
In which way does loyalty to ones employer have
inherent value? Assuming that ones employer is contrib-
uting in an ethical way to the satisfaction of some personal
or social needs, the mere fact that a loyal employee has
been engaged creatively and with effort, for an extended
period of time, in trying to sustain and increase the ability
of her employer to operate more effectively has value in
itself, independently of the eventual results of her efforts.
Of course, it is better to try and succeed than to try and fail,
but it in no way follows that an attempt that fails is val-
ueless. Both history and literature afford us many examples
of people who tried to achieve valuable objectives, often
against great odds but did not succeed. The lives of suchpeople are not wasted but rather good and meaningful
along a variety of dimensions. In many ways, they may
well have been richer and better than those of other, out-
wardly more successful, individuals.
I focused in the preceding paragraph on the extreme
case of the employee who, alone among her fellow
employees, is committed to her employer. In many cases,
however, there will be in a given organization more than
one committed employee. In many such cases, the common
commitment that such employees have issues in mutual
relationships of mutual help and loyalty. Again, such
relationships are intrinsically valuable independently of
whether or not the efforts of these people are successful.
Arguments Against Loyalty to Ones Employer
A variety of arguments have been offered which purport to
show that being loyal towards ones employer is misguided
and I will now proceed to consider them. I will only con-
sider here arguments which have prima facie force against
the definition of loyalty I have offered.
It is Possible to Participate in the Value of Loyalty
in Other Ways
Even if it is granted that engaging in loyal relationships can
be an important aspect of a persons flourishing, would it
not be possible, as a reviewer has asked to capture the
inherent, flourishing-inducing value of loyalty by being
loyal to ones profession or community, without neces-
sarily being a loyal employee? Indeed it is possible, and
because of this the large number of people who for one
reason or the other are precluded from engaging in a loyal
relationship with their employers are not thereby
504 J. M. Elegido
condemned to lead unfulfilled lives. Many other forms of
loyalty and of friendship are open to them, and so are many
other aspects of human flourishing such as, to name only a
few, knowledge, play, work, and religion. But the issue is
not whether there are alternative ways to flourish, but
whether it is reasonable not to take advantage of this one
when the opportunity of doing so presents itself. And in
making this decision, three factors to which I already
referred above in slightly different contexts are especially
relevant: very often there is no reason why one form of
loyalty should be exclusive and preclude others; work is
the activity to which most of us devote most of our waking
ours and therefore excluding loyal relationships from this
area of our lives can have great significance; and many
people nowadays have too few realistic alternative poles of
significant loyal relationships to casually discard the pos-
sibility of finding one in their working life.
Loyalty Makes the Employee Vulnerable
My definition emphasizes that loyalty requires sacrificing
ones own interests and that in itself is a prima facie
argument against loyalty, one which, as far as I can judge
from the arguments my own students often put forward in
discussing this topic, has a good deal of practical impor-
tance. Why should I sacrifice my interests, for instance by
failing to take advantage of an alternative higher-paying, or
in other ways more attractive, employment offer; or by
engaging in behaviours which demand an investment of
effort but are not demanded by my contract of employment
and nobody is likely to notice or reward?
Of course, no sane person would recommend self-sac-
rifice for its own sake but it may be useful to point out that
perhaps this argument tries to prove too much. After all, the
element of self-sacrifice is not something exclusive to
professional loyalty. Every commitment (including those
of love and friendship) demands self-sacrifice, makes us
vulnerable and may easily become a source of suffering.
But in the same way that most sane people would be slow
to conclude from this that one should avoid entanglements
and try to live as unattached a life as possible, one should
also be slow in drawing such conclusions in the area of
Even after considering this point, someone might still
see a contradiction in my argument in this article.3
According to the definition I have offered, loyalty may
demand sacrificing some aspects of ones self-interest
beyond what would be required by ones legal and other
moral duties. However, in the preceding section I have
argued that loyalty may make employees better off. As
what makes me better off is precisely what is in my self-
interest, I would seem to be contradicting myself: loyalty
would be and would not be in the employees self-interest.
The contradiction is only apparent, however. Loyalty
may demand, and in practice it often does demand, sac-
rificing some aspects of ones self-interest, but as I have
argued in the preceding section it also advances our
interests in very important ways. One cannot decide whe-
ther it is worthwhile paying a certain price until one has
considered the value of what one acquires. All of us daily
sacrifice some interests in order to advance other inter-ests that seem more important to us and there is nothing
surprising in these trade-offs.
In order to assess some of these trade-offs, it is impor-
tant to remember my remarks above on the issue of com-
mitment leading to identification. I have mentioned that by
being loyal I help my employing organization to be more
productive and more of a community. At first sight it might
appear that these are not part of my own interests. How-
ever, in so far as I identify myself with my employer, it is
progressively less a question of balancing my own interests
with those of my employer, because I now increasingly see
my employers interests as my own. Paraphrasing Ewin
(1993, p. 390), I can say that if I see it as part of myself that
I am an employee of a certain organization, then I shall not
draw a very sharp distinction between my personal inter-
ests and the interests of that organization. The question
now becomes, even in relation to these interests that might
seem to lie outside myself, whether it makes sense to
sacrifice some of my interests in order to advance other
interests of mine.
Other interests that an employee can advance by being
loyal are more obviously his own. As we saw before, such
interests include increasing ones work motivation, devel-
oping ones character in ways that make it easier for one to
have committed relationships in other areas of ones life,
adding meaning to ones life, and achieving greater unity in
ones life. I have also pointed out that, beyond the interests
of the employee that loyalty to her employer may advance,
which ultimately may be frustrated by circumstances
beyond the employees control, a loyal relationship is in
itself something inherently valuable and worth participat-
ing in, whatever other results may ultimately flow from it. I
do not want to conclude from this that the benefits of
loyalty to ones employer are such that they justify any
sacrifices that such loyalty may entail, as I am not trying to
argue that loyalty is always, or even most often, justified
(or not justified for that matter). My point in this section is
more limited: the fact that employee loyalty may demand
the sacrifice of some of the employees interests does not
automatically entail that such loyalty is excluded.
There is an especially prominent personal sacrifice that
loyalty would seem to demand in some cases which should
3 An anonymous reviewer raised the point I address in this paragraph
and the ones following.
Does It Make Sense to Be a Loyal Employee? 505
be given special attention here. I refer to the danger of the
employee becoming an organization man, so fully
devoted to the interests of his organization that it becomes
the sole source of his identity; such an employee can
become fully dependent on his employer and stop being an
autonomous individual with interests and projects of his
own and a capacity to think critically and make his own
A well-known way of avoiding such a danger is to avoid
loyalty to ones employer being the exclusive loyalty in
ones life, or even the paramount one (Axinn 1994;
Haughey 1993; Randall 1987). But, more generally, it was
precisely with this danger in view that I defined the loyalty
I was interested in as a commitment which will sacrifice
some aspects of ones self-interest and explicitly rejected
definitions which speak of thoroughgoing or wholehearted
In other words, it can be conceded that, except in very
exceptional circumstances, it is likely to make no sense to
sacrifice all of ones interests to a work relationship, but
this in no way negates that less all-consuming loyalties in
the work place may be conducive to the human fulfilment
The Profit-Making Nature of Business Enterprises
Duska (1997a, p. 338), in an article first published in 1985,
has put forward the following argument:
To think we owe a company or corporation loyalty
requires us to think of that company as a person or as
a group with a goal of human fulfilment. If we think
of it in this way we can be loyal. But this is the wrong
way to think. A company is not a person. A company
is an instrument, and an instrument with a specific
purpose, the making of profit. To treat an instrument
as an end in itself does give the instrument a moralstatus it does not deserve.
For good measure, he adds:
There is nothing as pathetic as the story of the loyal
employee who, having given above and beyond the
call of duty, is let go in the restructuring of the cor-
poration. He feels betrayed because he mistakenly
viewed the company as an object of his loyalty.
In a later publication, Duska (1997b) has changed his
views on the role of profit in business. Still, my interest
here is with the article from which the above quotes are
taken, as it refers specifically to the issue of loyalty and it
has been widely discussed in the literature.
To begin with, it should be noted that while the focus of
my interest in this article is all types of work relationships,
Duskas argument is restricted to business organizations.
Therefore it does not even pretend to touch the very large
number of employers who are not organized on a for-profit
basis. Still, I do not believe the argument is valid, or at least
generally valid, even in regard to for-profit organizations.
Duskas statement that [a] company is an instrument with a specific purpose, the making of money has to be
considered carefully. Many work organizations are orga-
nized on a for-profit basis but may in fact pursue at the
same time several different objectives. Think, for instance,
of a newspaper whose primary objective is to advance a
certain political or cultural agenda; or of a wealthy busi-
nesswoman who keeps a factory operating in her town,
even though this location is not optimal from an economic
point of view, to preserve as many jobs as possible in the
area. None of these examples is purely imaginary and
many similar ones could be offered, all tending to show the
rich variety and complexity of actual motivations which we
find in the business world.
I would agree that if profit maximization were the single
factor driving decisions in a business organization, to the
exclusion of everything else except (by hypothesis) the
organizations legal obligations, that is to say to the
exclusion of gratitude, consideration, aesthetics, respect for
people and the environment, and ethical concerns generally,
then, in most cases, that organization would not be a fit
object for loyalty. In the first place, an organization which is
exclusively profit-driven will, by definition, at all times do
what maximizes its profits and therefore cannot be relied
upon to reciprocate any past loyalty. Still, this is not a
knock-out argument as I did not include reciprocity in my
definition of loyalty and gave reasons for that choice. Sec-
ondly, and more importantly, there are many other candi-
dates for my commitment that are more appealing than
money, especially in the many societies which nowadays
live well above the limits of subsistence and are not forced
to subordinate everything else to securing the essentials of
survival. But purely profit-driven employers will not be fit
objects of loyalty in most cases, rather than invariably. A
profit-driven fund manager in charge of the savings of many
retirees could be an appropriate focus of loyalty for its
employees; in a society living on the brink of survival,
profit-focused organizations could deserve loyalty.
A point with much greater practical importance is that
very many business organizations which diligently pursue
profit fail to conform fully to the assumptions of the models
used by economists in their analyses and are not so single-
minded in the pursuit of profit as to exclude completely the
very idea of loyalty towards them (Larmer 1992; Randels
2001). The attentive reader will notice that my argument is
not that most (or many, or even some) are admirable on
ethical and/or other grounds; it is one less dependent on
demanding assumptions: that some are not so terribly bad
as to exclude completely in relation to them the very idea of
506 J. M. Elegido
loyalty. This claim is eminently modest. I am just arguing
that the possibility of a loyal relationship towards an
employer should not be excluded as a matter of principle
by the very fact that the employers primary objective is to
make profits. To ascertain the degree of loyalty that is
justified in a given case, more than armchair arguments are
needed: one has to look at the specific facts of that case and
ascertain the degree to which factors which go beyond
mere profit drive decisions in that firm and how far these
factors justify loyalty to it.
The Unreliability of Publicly Traded Corporations
Hajdin (2005, pp. 275276) has argued as follows:
In the industrialized countries, it has, over recent
decades, become quite common for corporations with
publicly traded stock to undergo sudden and drastic
changes. Such changes are sometimes a part of a
hostile takeover, but not always: a change in the
upper-level management may produce similar results,
even when no takeover of any kind is involved Noaspect of a corporation with publicly traded stock is
immune to such changes. Something that thousands
of people have been labouring over years to develop
may be scrapped overnight or transformed into
something completely different
There is nothing about a corporation being that par-
ticular corporation that gives us reasons to think that it
will continue to act in any specific way beyond the next
change of higher management. A corporation is, in
other words, nothing but a legal shell that can be given
any content by the management of the day It wouldbe difficult to comprehend anybody who professed to
be loyal to whatever happens to fill a particular shell.
This is a very important point that deserves attentive
consideration by anybody who is choosing a job. Hajdin is
careful not to overstate the implications of his argument.
He explicitly points out, first, that it only applies to publicly
traded corporations and that it does not rule out loyalty
altogether, but merely shows that it has to be severely
qualified. I want to add that, as is the case with the pre-
ceding argument, this argument against offering loyalty to
ones employer does not apply at all to some not-for-profit
employers and has less force in relation to most of them
than it has for those for-profit employers who have a cor-
porate form of organization.
Loyalty Stifles Rational Criticism
Dogs provide many outstanding examples of unswerving
loyalty to their masters, to the point of death in some cases.
But the very fact that many dogs exhibit this attitude may
lead us to suspect that loyalty may not, after all, be
appropriate for human beings (Dunford 1999).
It is often argued that being loyal is incompatible with
thinking critically of those one is loyal to or with scrutin-
ising untrustingly their instructions (Corvino 2002; Ewin
1993; Fletcher 1993; Hajdin 2005). There have even been
well-known cases in which it was incontestable that the
behaviour required from a subordinate was unethical but in
which it was argued that the sacrifice of the subordinates
own principles and personal convictions would only prove
that his loyalty was great enough, up to the demands of this
very special sacrifice. Totalitarian leaders have been
notable for demanding the unswerving and unquestioning
loyalty of their subjects with well-known consequences
(Mele 2001). The frequency with which a claim of loyalty
has been used to demand unethical behaviour from sub-
ordinates lends resonance to the saying that when an
organization wants you to do right, it asks for your integ-
rity; when it wants you to do wrong, it demands your
loyalty (Kleinig 2008, p. 4).
This unsavoury side of loyalty can infect work rela-
tionships as much as any others. The chronicles of many
business scandals feature episodes in which some
employees had discovered that their employers were doing
seriously harmful things, but were induced by an appeal to
their loyalty to co-operate in their employers wrongs, or at
least to refrain from reporting them to the appropriate
authorities. Some people conclude that if loyalty is capable
of making people suspend in this way their capacity for
moral judgment it would seem something to be avoided
rather than recommended.
At this point also, it may be useful to point out that
similar arguments could be put forward against any other
type of loyalty and commitment. If we do not believe that
the argument is strong enough to justify the decision to
pursue a life totally free from attachments, we may be less
impressed by it in the specific area of work relationships.
Business ethicists have treated this issue most frequently
in the context of whistleblowing. They have generally
concluded that, provided that other avenues for stopping
the harm the employer is doing seem not practicable and
that there is proportionality between that harm and the
harms that the employer and its stakeholders will suffer by
the employees denunciation of the employers inappro-
priate behaviour to the authorities or to the general public,
a sane loyalty would not be incompatible with blowing the
whistle, far less would it require active co-operation with
the employers unethical behaviour (Boatright 2003;
Corvino 2002; De George 2006; Kleinig 2008; Larmer
1992). Different writers frame this general conclusion in
different ways, depending on their respective conceptions
of loyalty and their general ethical positions. On my own
Does It Make Sense to Be a Loyal Employee? 507
part, it should be enough to point out that nothing in the
definition of loyalty I offered above would commit any-
body who concludes that offering such loyalty to her
employer is a desirable thing to feel obliged to suspend her
moral judgment or to override her conclusions on what is
the right thing to do.
I have examined several ways in which a loyal commit-
ment towards ones employer can make ones life signifi-
cantly richer. I believe that an attentive consideration of the
arguments I have reviewed provides strong reasons not to
be hasty in embracing the popular dismissal of professional
loyalty as irrelevant to modern conditions. However, it is
important to realize that, if they are examined carefully, all
the arguments in favour of loyalty to ones employer that I
have discussed tend to show that a certain (and variable)
degree of loyalty is likely to be appropriate provided that
the objectives and values of an organization are appealing.
As far as I can see, none of them provides conclusive
reasons to act loyally without restrictions or qualifications
and no matter the circumstances. In other words, all of the
reasons in favour of being a loyal employee that I have
discussed above are conditional in nature: they only show
that in so far as some conditions obtain, being loyal in
some ways towards ones employer can be one way of
leading a more fulfilling life.
Something similar can be said of all the objections to the
idea of being a loyal employee that I have examined. None
of them provides an absolute argument, valid at all times
and in all contexts, against being loyal to ones employer.
However, they succeed in making it clear that in cer-
tain situations loyalty will be misguided and also that
loyalty should have limits. While generally speaking, a
loyal relationship with his employer may be conducive to
an employees fulfilment, this will not be necessarily so in
relation to all employers and even less so in relation to all
the different ways in which loyalty can be expressed. A
consideration of the objections against loyalty which I have
discussed will help the reader to better appreciate my
decision to stay clear of a totalizing conception of loyalty
in my definition and to opt instead for defining it in a way
that admits of more and less; some of the arguments I
examined show than in many circumstances a hundred-per-
cent commitment to an employer would not make sense:
Many employers may deserve some commitment, but not a
total commitment; there may well be some doubt that some
employers will keep deserving in future the same degree of
commitment they deserve now; there is always an element
of risk that the employer may fail to reciprocate the com-
mitment it is given and it may be appropriate to take
precautions to minimize ones losses if that were to be the
case. Even accepting the arguments in favour of loyalty
and agreeing that there are many ways in which a loyal
relationship with ones employer may be a very fine thing,
all of these factors will often tend to recommend to express
ones loyalty in some ways but not in others, and to accept
a certain degree of self-denial in acting loyally, but not a
At this stage some readers may feel disappointed that I
am not able to reach more determinate conclusions. I seem
to say that loyalty will be appropriate in some cases, but
not in others. Could I not be more specific and indicate
whether loyalty is justified in typical present-day
Let me be forthright in addressing this potential objection.
Considering the issue globally, employees find themselves
in an extraordinary variety of situations. There are different
types of work, going all the way from the almost purely
manual and numbingly repetitive to the most challenging
which requires the highest degrees of education and skill.
There are different types of employers: public and private,
for-profit and not-for-profit, large and small, highly princi-
pled and unscrupulous, and so on. Very importantly, and this
factor is often overlooked in discussions of the issue, the
countries in which employees work differ very greatly in
culture, legal environment and degree of economic devel-
opment. And there are still other dimensions along which
employment situations differ. With the limitation of
knowledge available to us, it is simply impossible to decide
what is the typical present-day employment relationship. In
relation to the vast majority of working human beings, we
just do not have the data to start attempting to address that
issue with any rigour. Precisely one of my main criticisms to
the work of many scholars which have addressed before me
the topic of loyalty in the employment relationship is that
they have tended to overlook this wide variety of situations
and therefore have reached conclusions that, while making
sense in the context of the situations they were considering,
lacked even prima-facie plausibility as soon as they were
considered in the context of different situations. This applies
more especially to some of the scholars that have argued
against the appropriateness of loyalty to ones employer.
Even if, as I have argued above, the conclusions of many of
the scholars who deny the appropriateness of loyalty in the
workplace are too general and for that reason are open to
criticism, partly as a consequence of their work, a climate of
opinion has become widespread that tends to dismiss out of
hand the mere possibility of engaging in a loyal relationship
with ones employer.
But even though I grant that I cannot provide a perfectly
general answer about the appropriateness of loyalty in the
typical situation, there are two things that I feel confident in
doing on the basis of this article. In the first place, as I have
508 J. M. Elegido
already mentioned above, I can stress that in many situa-
tions loyalty in the workplace can be a very fine thing,
highly conducive to the flourishing of the employee. Sec-
ondly, beyond this general consideration, I can provide
practical guidance by highlighting the main factors one
should look for in specific situations. The more an
employers purposes are in fact restricted to the creation of
profit and the more the legal form of organization of an
employer, its culture, and the circumstances surrounding it
make it likely or possible for it to change radically its
purposes and commitments, the less appropriate it will be
to engage with that employer in a loyal employment rela-
tionship as defined above; while, conversely, the more
worthwhile the purposes of the employer and the more it
constitutes a real community, and the more one can expect
a degree of mutuality in the relationship, the more it will be
reasonable to commit more fully to that employer.
Perhaps all of this can be brought to a point if we
address specifically the issue that concerns most some
critics of loyalty to ones employer. Would it be appro-
priate to offer loyalty to a large publicly quoted American
business organization? According to the principles I have
discussed above I would answer that it will depend above
all on how far its purposes are restricted to the pursuit of
profit, to the exclusion of anything else. In so far as they are
not and they are purposes worthy of a moral persons
allegiance, loyalty to that employer will be appropriate. At
this point, a second question must be asked. Should that
loyalty take the form of a commitment to remain attached
to that employer, rejecting if necessary more advantageous
job offers? Given the frequency with which corporate
reorganizations and changes of mission occur among
American large publicly quoted companies, one will have
to assess carefully, in the specific circumstances of each
case, the likelihood of that commitment being reciprocated.
If that likelihood is low, it could well be unwise to express
ones loyalty in that form. Notice, however, that even in
this type of situation, it can still be fully appropriate to be a
loyal employee and to show ones loyalty in other ways.
Also, it will always be appropriate to keep in mind that
loyalty to ones employer is not a justification for co-
operating with him or her in unethical behaviour or for
suspending ones moral judgment, and that outside very
rare and unusual circumstances, it is dangerous and
unjustified to make ones employer the paramountfar
less exclusivefocus of loyalty in ones life (Hart and
Thompson 2007; Haughey 1993).
In my view, the more general conclusion that emerges
from this article is that, other things being equal, it is very
much worthwhile to try and be a loyal employee but that,
first of all, it is necessary to consider carefully the ways of
expressing that loyalty, which make sense here and now in
view of ones special circumstances and commitments and,
secondly, that loyalty is by no means appropriate with
regards to all employers and that therefore one has to look
carefully for an employer to whom it may make sense to be
loyal and with whom to have a relationship of mutual
commitment. In practical terms, what this means is that
when one is considering job and career options, the issue of
the suitability of different employers as worthwhile poles
of a loyal work relationship is very much worth paying
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Does It Make Sense to Be a Loyal Employee? 511
Does It Make Sense to Be a Loyal Employee?AbstractIntroductionA Definition of Employees LoyaltyArguments for Loyalty to Ones EmployerLoyalty and Human FlourishingLoyal Employees Tend to Have Greater MotivationLoyal Employees are More TrustworthyLoyal Employees Improve the Performance of the Organizations for Which They Work and in This Way Benefit ThemselvesLoyal Employees Make a Special Contribution to the Wider SocietyLoyalty at Work Makes It Easier to Have Committed Relationships in Other Areas of the Employees LifeLoyalty at Work Expands the Employees Field of Interests to Additional Choice-Worthy ObjectivesGreater Unity in the Employees LifeLoyal Employees Help Make the Organization a True CommunityLoyal Relationships Have an Inherent Value
Arguments Against Loyalty to Ones EmployerIt is Possible to Participate in the Value of Loyalty in Other WaysLoyalty Makes the Employee VulnerableThe Profit-Making Nature of Business EnterprisesThe Unreliability of Publicly Traded CorporationsLoyalty Stifles Rational Criticism