What is the State of Workplace Loyalty in 2024?


Loyalty is not what it was. As with everything in the modern world, the pace has upped and the foundations have grown a little shaky. It’s less and less common for someone to stay at the same company all their life. The expectations of employees have changed and the expectations of companies too.

So, what does workplace loyalty look like in 2024? This article will assess the benefits of loyalty, how it has changed with differing generational ideals, the downsides of having too much, and how to garner it in an increasingly transactional world.

The benefits of being loyal

Management experts say staff who are loyal to their employer are inclined to invest more time and effort in their jobs [1]. Unsurprisingly, this increased engagement tends to lead to better performance, which in turn makes loyal workers more likely to gain promotions and higher pay. Being loyal to an employer is also found to reduce job-related stress [2]. Loyal employees feel like they belong at their company and are more likely to actually fulfill that standardised CV promise of ‘going the extra mile’.

The downside of being loyal

While loyalty is of course generally a good thing, it can go too far. Overly loyal employers can  be liable to commit unethical acts to either prove their loyalty or as a result of it. Equally, overly loyal employees can be taken advantage of by employers.

In terms of the former, examples are rife. At the Toshiba headquarters in Japan, leaders led employees to believe that they would receive a near lifetime appointment if they demonstrated commitment to the organisation, its goals, and its people. The carefully cultivated loyalty of staff allowed senior managers to get away with an accounting scandal for a prolonged period of time. Employees knew about the scandal but didn’t speak out. In the west, the Enron debacle is another obvious example.

Research backs up the theory that too much loyalty can lead to ethical breaches. A study conducted by the University of California, Berkeley and Harvard Business School found that “loyal” fraternity students were less likely to cheat on a puzzle-solving task than their less loyal counterparts. That is, until they were told the task was competitive, with the importance of beating rival houses to win a cash prize stressed. Suddenly, the loyal students became far more likely to cheat than their less loyal counterparts, even without being explicitly told to break the rules. [3]

Research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology has found that the more loyal an employee is, the more likely they are to be targeted for exploitative practices by their manager. Employers expect a level of self-sacrifice from these employees. They feel comfortable asking them to work late or while on holiday, or to undertake tasks unrelated to their job duties without extra reward or pay.

“Employers take advantage of loyal and passionate workers because they believe that for [them], the work itself is its own reward,” says Neil Lewis, an associate professor of communication and social behaviour at Cornell University and author of a 2021 paper that also found employers likely to exploit overly loyal employees. [4]

“It’s a double-edged sword: loyalty has benefits for both employees and firms, but it can also keep us from seeing and doing things that need to change…It is useful to periodically step back and reflect on why we are loyal to particular people, things, or ideas.”

The changing landscape

Bruce Tulgan, author of It’s Okay to Be the Boss and The Art of Being Indispensable at Work, writes in Forbes that “loyalty isn’t dead –– it’s just changing” [5]. He notes that with the rapid-pace changes brought by globalisation and drastic technological advancements, younger generations have grown up in a state of flux.

“Gen Zers are comfortable in this rapidly changing web of variables,” he writes. “Uncertainty is their natural habitat: they’ve never known the world any other way.”

The pandemic obviously exacerbated the sense of instability for a number of young workers. The data for their yearning for meaningful work was borne out in the Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting phenomena. Unlike workers of old, millennials and Gen Z do not hand over their loyalty to their employers unquestioningly because they’ve come to see that they are unlikely to receive it in return.

Gallup’s latest state of the workplace report showed that half of the 122,416 employees who took part in a global survey were looking out for new work [6]. Amongst global turbulence and a side-hustle culture, it’s hardly surprising that workers are unwilling to put all their eggs in one basket. “No job is risk-free today, so it’s imperative you are intentional about how you actively manage that risk,” says Christina Wallace, senior lecturer at Harvard Business School and author of The Portfolio Life. [7]

Tulgan points out the misdiagnosis often given to younger employees by their older cohorts. “For a lot of leaders and managers, the takeaway is that young people today are less loyal. But loyalty shouldn’t be confused with blind obedience. Instead, they offer the kind of loyalty you get in a free market –– that is, transactional loyalty. This is the same kind of loyalty you extend to your customers and clients.” [8]

Amidst the understanding that their careers are going to have to be more dynamic than the generations that came before, younger workers want something in exchange for their loyalty. “Gen Zers are not about to do tasks outside the scope of their position in exchange for vague, long-term promises of rewards that vest in the deep distant future,” Tulgan continues. Mainly because they’ve seen all their adult lives that the long-term doesn’t exist anymore; the future is far too fragile to put their faith in.

As attitudes of workers have changed, the attitudes of those hiring have too. As such, showing loyalty by staying in a job for a long time can actually be seen as a negative.

“If you’ve only been in one industry, in one business, it can make you a little bit one-dimensional,” says Jamie McLaughlin, CEO of New York-based recruiting company Monday Talent in an interview with the BBC. “You might look at that [longevity] and go, how motivated is this person? Why haven’t they wanted to move? It can signal that professional development has stalled, or that workers have a smaller network.” [9]

Christina Wallace agrees. “I do think staying at a company too long is risky,” she says. “You start getting comfortable. Maybe you slow down on networking or stop looking at what your market rate might be elsewhere. You don’t keep up with how job descriptions in your industry are changing and whether you’re doing what you can to stay current.” [10]

With young people criticised for moving too much and overly loyal employees being exploited and thought to lack ambition, the modern climate can feel like a lose-lose. But work trends expert Samantha Ettus suggests there is a happy medium. “These days company loyalty is a rarity, so when I see someone who has stayed at their previous company for three-plus years, it’s meaningful,” she says. [11]

Though she also warns against staying much longer. “If you are at a company for more than seven years, it flags a potential lack of ambition,” she says.

Cultivating loyalty

Employees may be uncertain as to how loyal they should be to their company given the ever-changing landscape and the potential drawbacks of over-investing themselves. But employers will always want loyal employees. As noted earlier, it leads to better performance and creates a better atmosphere. So how can employers work to earn loyalty from their staff?

Obvious answers are promotions and pay rises. But these are not always possible and, let’s face it, most of the time businesses would rather avoid doling out more cash if they can help it. Thankfully there are other techniques too.

Writing in Harvard Business Review, Stephen Trzeciak, chief of medicine at Cooper University Health Care, Anthony Mazzarelli, co-president/CEO of Cooper University Health Care, and Emma Seppälä, a faculty member at the Yale School of Management, argue that the key consideration must be compassion. They define compassion as empathy plus action.

“Contrary to what many employers currently believe, the recent wave of employee attrition has less to do with economics and more to do with relationships (or lack thereof),” they write. “The data support that employees’ decisions to stay in a job largely come from a sense of belonging, feeling valued by their leaders, and having caring and trusting colleagues. Conversely, employees are more likely to quit when their work relationships are merely transactional.” [12]

They note that neuroimaging research shows people’s brains respond more positively to leaders who show compassion, while a compassionate culture has been linked with lower employee emotional exhaustion and less absenteeism.

They provide a slew of evidence-based advice as to how to be a compassionate leader, broken down below:

  1. To start small: A Johns Hopkins study found that giving just 40 seconds of compassion can lower another person’s anxiety in a measurable way.

Workplace loyalty in 2024

Loyalty in the workplace has changed. Workers are unlikely to stay at one company all their lives and are perhaps ill-advised to do so. Doing so might lead their company to exploit them or cause other potential employers to perceive them as unambitious. Equally, barring rare exceptions, workers cannot expect their workplace to show unwavering dedication to them.

A lot of people blame young workers for their lack of loyalty, but it’s simply that their loyalty is different. Having grown up with and become accustomed to instability, a transactional form of loyalty suits them better. It helps ensure they’re not putting all their eggs in one wobbly basket. For employers looking to foster loyalty in their staff, pay rises and promotions are the obvious answer. But compassion must also play a role. We are all human at the end of the day. Sometimes all we need is to be seen and treated as such.

More on Employee Retention

Employee Retention: the Hows and Whys

Integration & Retention

Creating and fostering cultures of meaning

The Role of Empathy in the Workplace: Impact and Implications


[1] https://iaap-journals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1464-0597.00020

[2] https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2F0021-9010.78.4.552

[3] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32868412/

[4] https://www.ft.com/content/be583262-8bc7-4ad0-884c-792656093c22

[5] https://www.forbes.com/sites/brucetulgan/2023/03/02/employee-loyalty-isnt-dead-its-just-changing/?sh=43799aa419c6

[6] https://www.ft.com/content/be583262-8bc7-4ad0-884c-792656093c22

[7] https://www.forbes.com/sites/amyshoenthal/2023/06/30/staying-at-the-same-company-for-years-a-sign-of-loyalty-or-laziness/?sh=6559a90b1459

[8] https://www.forbes.com/sites/brucetulgan/2023/03/02/employee-loyalty-isnt-dead-its-just-changing/?sh=43799aa419c6

[9] https://www.forbes.com/sites/amyshoenthal/2023/06/30/staying-at-the-same-company-for-years-a-sign-of-loyalty-or-laziness/?sh=6559a90b1459

[10] https://www.forbes.com/sites/amyshoenthal/2023/06/30/staying-at-the-same-company-for-years-a-sign-of-loyalty-or-laziness/?sh=6559a90b1459

[11] https://www.forbes.com/sites/amyshoenthal/2023/06/30/staying-at-the-same-company-for-years-a-sign-of-loyalty-or-laziness/?sh=6559a90b1459

[12] https://hbr.org/2023/02/leading-with-compassion-has-research-backed-benefits