Does It Make Sense to Be a Loyal Employee?

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  • 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

    DOI 10.1007/s10551-012-1482-4

  • 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

    moral duties.

    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

    have offered.

    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

    be uncritical.

    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

    human flourishing.

    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

    lovable person.

    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

    worth saying.

    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

    own goals.

    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-

    tionships themselves.

    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

    Cleanthous 1996).

    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

    professional loyalties.

    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

    of employees.

    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

    greater one.

    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

    attention to.


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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