Loyalty is a strong state of support or allegiance. It is something that we protect in most areas of our lives, but for some reason, this doesn’t seem to be the case when it comes to our employers. In today’s world, retailers spend millions of dollars on their loyalty programs to get you to choose them over others. Many of us have seen the power of loyalty programs every time we use our Starbucks or Sephora app to make another purchase, racking up those points to receive a free cup of coffee or to reach Rouge status for all the exclusive perks. So why then do we give our loyalty away for free to the organizations we work for?
Time and time again, I speak with attorneys who are working at a firm that clearly does not offer the career growth opportunities they are seeking, has them working way more hours than what is normal in the market, consistently leaves promises unfulfilled or simply is not meeting basic expectations of providing a positive work culture.
I recently spoke with an associate who left her previous firm because they were working her to the bone. She told me that if you billed under 2,200 hours, you were seen as a “slacker.” I asked her why she stayed at the firm for over four years. Her response was that she stayed out of blind and undeserved loyalty, which at the time she didn’t understand. She went on to say that she pretty much developed Stockholm Syndrome and her firm was her captor. This was a pretty powerful statement to me.
Stockholm Syndrome is a condition that causes hostages to develop a psychological alliance with their captors as a survival strategy during captivity. Can this really be the case? Are associates trying to simply survive? Does the oftentimes brutal law firm world create a psychological alliance? This is definitely not true for everyone, but I couldn’t help thinking she was on to something.
We give our loyalty to companies like Starbucks and Sephora not for free but because we are constantly getting something in return for the money we spend with them. Yet, it appears that many associates put in the hard work and sometimes don’t get any of the perks they are seeking. They are giving their loyalty away for free and getting little or sometimes nothing in return.
Many of the “perks” that associates want aren’t perks at all but are industry standards that they simply aren’t aware of. This may include a formal mentorship program where they get consistent guidance on how to grow in their role; the opportunity to attend seminars that provide insight into business development; an internal website providing access to in-house positions with clients; the opportunity to do the kind of work that excites them; or even the flexibility to work from home on occasion. In today’s market, associates need to know that many firms are taking their desires and concerns into consideration and are working hard to gain their loyalty. So a firm that isn’t meeting an associate’s expectations does not deserve their loyalty to stay.
Associates need to be loyal first and foremost to themselves. They have a finite number of years to build their careers and make the decisions they need to in order to meet their long-term goals, whether that is to make partner, go in-house or any other path they may choose. When an associate has found a firm that provides them the opportunities to meet those goals, then and only then should they truly give their loyalty. So ask yourself: Is my company incentivizing my loyalty or am I giving it away for free?