While prompted by a recent discussion with a protege, our latest real-life example uses a blend of situations to illustrate the issue and our suggestions. This blend includes real-life situations we’ve seen in the past and/or discussions we’ve had, in order to anonymise things somewhat… It is thus a composite, and “any resemblance to actual events or people, living or dead, is purely coincidental” - quite a paradox for a ‘real-life example’ post yes.
The composite example involves when your relationship with your long-standing employer ends unexpectedly, leaving you as a professional in the wilderness, unsure of how to proceed... And, this is sadly far more common than you might imagine. The uncertainty arises from multiple angles, including emotional, financial and perhaps self-belief and credibility too. Professional reputation may also be affected. In our experience, those most vulnerable to such a discontinuity are often the employees who:
When your employment relationship is a healthy, reciprocal, ‘through sickness and health’ one, the years of mutual sacrifice and commitment can make it much stronger. However, the employment relationship can be far more risky when your employer (the organisation) doesn’t feel the same way about you, akin to professing your eternal love to someone who only wants you for your immediate skills... Indeed, even if you have a strong relationship with your manager(s), this can be overridden by short-term organisational factors.
So, if you have all your eggs in one employment basket and as a result are at risk of being vulnerable in this way, and you take away only one thought from this article, please remember that less loyalty can be a good risk management/reduction strategy i.e. placing your eggs in different baskets. Read more to see why.
When It’s Over, It’s Over
Real-life examples of situations where we’ve seen long employment relationships ended include:
Some of these situations involve levels of management discretion, so can quickly turn sour when you don’t have a strong relationship with your manager and his/her bosses. As shocking as it is, we’ve seen situations where an employer is actively seeking your replacement while you’re still in the role!
To reduce the risks of your loyalty and dedication to your employer being unrequited, we instead recommend an approach of loyalty to yourself and your career first. This includes diversifying your business relationships (and professional identity), so that you know and are respected by others who work at different organisations. And, yes, this can be difficult if you tend to build trust through working with others on specific deliverables for meaningful periods of time. Diversification also helps to strengthen your professional reputation, as you are more widely known and much less dependent on the views of one employer.
Group settings to develop wider relationships
If your current relationships are primarily with other employees at your own (long-term) employer, we suggest connecting with and developing relationships with peers from other companies by:
As you may prefer one-to-one relationship building, we also suggest some ideas for building relationships at an individual level. A natural place to start (and build outwards from) is with people you’ve worked with in the past at your employer who now work elsewhere. For example, keeping in contact with ex-colleagues and university classmates gives you a good base to grow from. Try:
Other examples of questions/topics to discuss include:
Provided you keep the discussions at a high-level (such as trends) and avoid divulging company secrets, these conversations should add value to you both without straying into nonpublic information territory. You don’t need to discuss financial reporting assumptions, company policies, quarterly earnings updates etc. Instead, use your discretion and maintain integrity – reflecting on how you would feel if your discussion was tomorrow’s headline should help keep it ethical i.e. the newspaper test. Discussing your opinions on other companies rather than your and their own employer is another useful technique.
Value to you and value to your current and future employers
Overall, new relationships will help you be aware of what’s happening outside of your company (i.e. market dynamics) and also alert you to new opportunities e.g. new volunteer opportunities, jobs, consulting opportunities etc, helping to diversify your employment risk. And, the insights you gain will also make you better at your current job as your perspective will be broader than before.
We hope these suggestions help you to: