The title of this post is somewhat of a trick question. When a company pays your salary, as agreed when you took the job, you probably do owe them something in return. In other words, in most cases you should deliver whatever you agreed to do in exchange for that salary.
On the other hand, what if the company expects actions that are, for example, unethical or borderline illegal? Then you’re looking at possible consequences and risks that you didn’t agree to at the outset. Such a situation merits at least some serious thought on your part and might require you to take steps that are difficult to face.
Here’s hoping you never have a job situation that puts you in that kind of spot, but we’ve probably all heard or read news reports about just such occurrences. How would you handle it if it happened to you?
Ultimately, you’ll have to determine whether a demand is so unacceptable that you need to find another position. Before you reach that point, however, it would be wise to evaluate the situation carefully. For instance, can you identify possible ways to work things out so that you don’t have to accede to unacceptable job performance demands?
If you’ve done your best to work through a troublesome issue and gotten nowhere, that might be the time to start seriously looking for options outside the company–as discreetly as possible. In the meantime, you’ll want to avoid “stirring the pot” if you can, so you don’t raise a red flag in the minds of management about your plan to jump ship the moment you find a better job offer.
Among other things, be very careful about talking to anyone within the company–even someone you think you can trust. Whether or not the person is on the level and means to treat your comments as confidential, you can’t bank on that and don’t want to put your job at risk unnecessarily.
I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating. As far as I know, no company gives you an open-ended job guarantee or promises you they’ll give you ample notice if they decide they need or want to dispense with your services.
Maybe the best companies today do care about their employees and make a point of treating them fairly, partly because they know it’s the best way to continue attracting top performers; but those are probably the exception rather than the rule. Many companies that aren’t necessarily shady or otherwise undesirable don’t feel a real sense of loyalty to employees. As Tom Hanks’ character says in “You’ve Got Mail”: “It’s not personal; it’s business.”
When they need to trim expenses or change directions for the business in some way that leaves you on the outside, you’re expendable. In most cases, they don’t even need to give you any warning. Not only that, but if you give them the traditional two-weeks’ notice when you’re the one initiating a separation, they can just as easily walk you right out the door with no time to do more than (maybe) grab your personal effects.
So a word to the wise: Be smart about the subject of company loyalty. Do what you knowingly agreed to do and make plans to leave if the job situation takes an unexpected turn for the worst. You “owe” that to yourself.
P.S. This will be my last blog post for the next few weeks, as I’m in the midst of getting ready to make a cross-country move. I’ll get back to you when I can.