Stop Selling Your Soul to Those Who Would Throw You Under Bus: Acknowledging the Contradictory Expectations Around Loyalty in Business

by candy barone Mar 29, 2024

I find it ironic how loyalty is often touted as a two-way street when it comes to business. Employers expect unwavering dedication and commitment from their employees, often using rhetoric that emphasizes teamwork, collaboration, and going the extra mile. 

However, in the same breath, when the tables are turned, these same companies don’t always demonstrate the same level of loyalty or support for their employees. In fact, in my experience, most do the exact opposite.

This disconnect between expectation and reality raises important concerns and questions about the nature of loyalty in business relationships and the ethical responsibilities that both employers and employees bear.

I know both firsthand and from the stories so many of my clients share that the cultural landscape of too many companies is one where they are not truly walking the talk. For what they expect, and often demand, from employees ends up being quite the opposite of what they hold true for themselves. There is a huge disconnect and undeniable hypocrisy at play. 

The Illusion of Loyalty

Many companies tout a culture of loyalty among their employees, promoting values such as dedication, long-term commitment, and putting the team first. Employees are often encouraged to invest their time, energy, and even personal values into their work, with promises of recognition, advancement, and job security in return. 

This creates an illusion of mutual loyalty, where both parties are expected to prioritize each other’s interests. However, when push comes to shove, a company doesn’t always deomonstrate the same loyalty in return. 

Let’s take for an example the notion that employees are expected to give two weeks notice when leaving a job. When, on the flip side, an employer wants to let go of an individual, they do so without any notice. Many times, the employee is expected to pack their things up and leave the building within the hour. I know this happened to me back in my corporate days. 

I was working for Johnson Controls at the time. I had received my MBA, and received the Chairman’s award, along with two other notable recognitions. When, unexpectedly, with no warning, I was told I was being let go and had an hour to clean out my office. 

What’s even more startling is that I was told just the day before that I was earmarked as an up-and-coming leader within global JCI and they wanted to discuss my professional development. There was a plan for my future. As a young, naive, emerging leader, I “bled blue.” I was loyal to a fault. I sacrificed my time, my relationships, and my energy to be all the things asked of me. Yet, when they took on a merger, and my work exposed the lack of effort on the part of upper management, I was cut off at the knees. 

No two weeks notice, barely a severance package. In fact, there were boxes waiting at my desk after I was given the news. If the tables were turned, I would have been expected to give my notice, bust my ass for a few more weeks, and play the game. 

Otherwise, it would have been considered bad form.

The Reality Check

Despite the rhetoric of loyalty, the reality in many workplaces can be starkly different, as my story is not that different … nor, is it the only time in my career where the tables were unbalanced. 

Individuals find themselves facing layoffs, pay cuts, or increased workloads during challenging times, with little regard for their years of service, loyalty, commitment, or dedication. 

In some cases, loyalty is only valued as long as it serves the company’s bottom line, leading to feelings of betrayal and disillusionment among employees who gave of their “souls” and believed they were part of a mutually supportive partnership, or worse family.

It’s one of the reason I hate when organizations promote that they have a family-like culture. Talk about a glaring toxic red flag. First of all, companies don’t really treat their employees like family. That’s a line of bullshit. Second, think about how many people associated the word family with some level of dysfunction. It comes loaded with so much, too much. 

Is that really the energy you want to convey about your team and culture?

Double Standards and Contradictions 

One of the most glaring contradictions in expectations of loyalty is the disparity between what employers demand from their employees and what they are willing to offer in return. Again, one example, as discussed, being the preemptive “two weeks” notice expectation (and demand). 

While employees are often expected to prioritize the company’s interests above their own, companies may not always reciprocate with the same level of commitment or loyalty when employees face personal or professional challenges.

Let’s look at the past four years, for example. It was astonishing to me how many companies threw their employees under the bus when things got tough during the pandemic. Between that and the increase in ridiculous expectations as people we trying to learn a new way to live, to balance demands of home and work, and deal with the stress of COVID, itself.

Yet, still these companies who say they are about their people first, were anything but. Employees were faced with layoffs, pay cuts, or additional workloads when many were literally fighting for their own survival. 

Then, even when things appeared to be getting back to “normal” (whatever that means), the expectation was (and still is) that the majority of people need to be back in the office full time, or a majority of the time, and that they should be willing to dig in even deeper to help recover from any lapses experienced during the pandemic. 

The pressure on employees is heavier than ever. Individuals are struggling with intense mental health issues, alarming levels of stress and anxiety, overwhelm, and massive burnout. But, companies continue to expect that they wind and grind, burn and churn, and hustle to prove their loyalty. 

This comes at a great cost to the employee, as they find themselves too often selling their own soul just to keep their job. 

The Cost of Loyalty 

For many employees, the cost of unwavering loyalty can be high, and one that is spiraling them down a very slippery slope. They end up sacrificing their own personal time and relationships, sabotage their own wellbeing, and even compromise their own values to meet the demands of their jobs and fulfill expectations of their employer and organization. 

However, when loyalty is not met with reciprocal support, respect, value, energy, and appreciation, it can lead to excessive stress, anxiety, bitterness, resentment, burnout, and a sense of being exploited or undervalued.

Which, let’s be honest, is hitting the mark, don’t you think? Because aren’t we seeing a vast number of organizations doing just that … exploiting the “loyalty” of their people?

Most employees get grief and pushback just trying to take vacation or PTO days that are part of their benefits package and owed to them. It’s crazy to think companies lose sight of why their people need time off and time away to recharge. If they really valued their intellectual capital, and the value of what their employees bring to the table, they would realize that they only way to get top performance is to have you people rested, recharged, healthy and whole. They need to fill their cups first. 

Yet, this is not common practice in most companies. It’s the exact opposite. 

Building a Culture of Mutual Respect 

Now, I would be remiss to call out this hypocrisy and contradiction if I didn’t also offer potential solutions to resolve the issues. First, companies need to move beyond the empty rhetoric and prioritize building connected cultures of mutual respect, transparency, compassion, and equity. 

This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Open Communication: Encouraging honest and open communication between employers and employees to foster greater trust and prevent misunderstandings about expectations and responsibilities.
  • Fair Treatment: Ensuring that policies and practices within the company are fair and equitable, with opportunities for growth, recognition, and support for employees at all levels. It also means establishing clear job roles and responsibilities, plus executing on behalf of what has been promised, and are employee’s rights as outlined within their compensation / benefits package and employee handbook.
  • Recognition and Appreciation: Acknowledging and appreciating employees’ contributions regularly, not just during times of success or achievement, can boost morale and reinforce a sense of value and loyalty. This extends beyond just additonal dollars in their pocket. Think beyond bonuses and quick hits, rather create an integrated plan to honor, value, and celebrate employees regularly. 
  • Support during Challenges: Providing support and resources to employees during challenging times, such as financial difficulties, health issues, or personal crises, demonstrates genuine care and fosters a stronger sense of loyalty. This requires a deeper level of emotional intellgence from leaders to express deeper empathy, vulnerability, compassion, kindness, generosity, and grace. 


The contradictory expectations of loyalty in business highlight the need for a more nuanced and ethical approach to workplace relationships.

Employers must recognize that loyalty is a reciprocal relationship that requires mutual respect, consideration, and support. By fostering a culture of transparency, compassion, equity, and appreciation, businesses can create environments where loyalty is demonstrated through actions, not just by mere words, where individuals are valued as valuable partners in the overall success of the business.

Also remember that your worth as an employee is not defined by blind loyalty to a company that does not reciprocate upon that loyalty. If I could offer you one piece of advice: Please stop selling your soul to those who would ultimately throw you under the bus given the chance. 

Instead, seek out cultures that truly values and respects your contributions.

As a leader (or employer), are you looking for ways to elevate your how you can better support your people? Be sure to grab a copy of my free resource to help you “How to Be a More Effective Leader


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