Sometimes questions about work and the future of work come to the top of the agenda. Take last week for instance when the news came out that Michel Balthazard who had worked for Renault, the French carmaker, for 31 years was fired after the group linked him to an alleged corporate espionage case. The company has now backtracked on the case, and says it may have been the victim of internal plot or fraud.
The question the FT Judgement Call column asked was ‘Should three decades of company loyalty have bought him the benefit of the doubt? Or is loyalty an outmoded concept in the modern workplace? ‘
It is an interesting question since it touches on some deeply human emotions of loyalty and decision making. I was one of three people who were asked to comment and this was my pre-edited response:
Loyalty is dead – killed off slowly through shortening contracts, outsourcing, automation and multiple careers. Faced with what could be 50 years of work – who honestly wants to spend that much time with one company? Serial monogamy is the order of the day. But whilst loyalty is dead...long live trust. Loyalty is about the future – trust is about the present. Trust is core to the relationship between the employer and employee – without it relationships become simply transactions and work is mired and slowed through continuous checks and monitoring. CEO’s may not believe their executives to be loyal in the sense that they will be with them indefinitely – but they have to believe they are trustworthy. Trust is one of the most precious organisational assets – slow to build and quick to be destroyed. The precursor to trust is fairness, justice and dignity – demonstrated in how processes operate and how people are treated when the going gets tough. The challenge for Renault is not so much the impact on Balthazard, but rather the impact on many other employees who may believe he has been treated in an unfair or unjust way. And as their trust wanes, expect other precious organisational assets like collaboration and engagement to wane with it.
Michel’s case touches on some important questions of human emotions. I believe that in the future it’s not that we humans will become any less emotional at work – but rather that the nature of our emotions will change. Take loyalty for example. The argument I am making is that loyalty plays an ever less significant role in organisational life. However, it’s not that this has disappeared – but rather than it has been replaced with another human emotion – that of justice and fairness, which by the way, is hard to create and indeed to sustain.
Are there other human emotions you see changing over the course of the next couple of decades of work?