Article

Employee loyalty slipping for some

Robert Westervelt, News Director

Michael Goodrich, a junior DBA who works for a Toronto-based computer manufacturer, had no qualms about leaving his first job out of college shortly after his former employer paid for a three-week technical course on new Oracle database features.

Goodrich used his new skills to nearly double his pay, but the 29-year-old former computer designer said he owed his former employer nothing.

Loyalty is, after all, earned.

Keith Falconer,
consultant, Computer Sciences Corp.

"A few months after I left, they let go a few guys and didn't even give them warning," Goodrich said. "If you're going to get ahead, you've got to be in the game for yourself."

As some companies seek to cut costs by outsourcing IT jobs to lower paid workers in India, China and other offshore locations, DBAs, software developers and others are struggling to determine whether loyalty even exists between themselves and their employers. For instance, when a company pays for additional employee training, how long is that employee expected to stay at the company?

The lines are fuzzy and the debate is often heated.

Employees should have loyalty to a certain point, according to Jim Maurer, a DBA at Seattle-based Boeing Co.

"In general it's abusive to take employer-paid training classes, then immediately accept employment elsewhere," Maurer said. "The original employer has made an investment in the employee, and it's only fair to give the employer a chance to benefit from the investment."

But employee loyalty does come with a price. Maurer said other factors are involved in determining whether to quit a job for a better one.

"The employee must also take into consideration the business practices of the employer," Maurer said. "Does the employer lay people off without notice? Do heads roll as soon as a project is completed? An employer can't reasonably expect better treatment from its employees than it gives to them."

James Keyes couldn't agree more. A senior systems analyst at Kenilworth, N.J.-based Schering-Plough Corp., said times have changed for workers and their employers.

After working for a telecom company for three years, Keyes said the job was very rewarding when times were good. But when the company emerged from bankruptcy, it had less use for a software developer and began treating Keyes like he was costing the company money.

Keyes knew it was time to move on.

"The proverbial 'gold watch' mentality is gone, especially in the IT field," Keyes said. "Loyalty to your employer is always a two-way street. As long as the employer is providing a great learning environment and challenging the employee, there should never be a loyalty issue. Keep the employee happy, and he's not going to leave."

Employee-employer bond -- where did it go?

Marty McCaghren, a former DBA who currently works at a Houston-based business software consultancy, recalls a time when the bond between employers and employees was much stronger.

Starting his first technology job at Amoco nearly 30 years ago, McCaghren said the company's veterans were willing to work and train young employees. And, in return, it was anticipated that employees would be with a company until they retired, he said.

"You got opportunities to excel, but understood, in those days, that you had to get experience over time," McCaghren said. "You would grow into the job and get more responsibility in the future."

McCaghren said he sensed a change in the early 1980s when foreign competition forced companies to cut costs and improve efficiencies. Those in the IT world scrambled to gain new skills and find more secure jobs.

"We were told that 'our jobs would be more challenging' and that 'in our careers, you will likely change jobs five to six times,'" McCaghren said. "For those of us that were in our 10- to 15-year careers, this was an unwelcome shock."

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Today, nearly all IT employees feel they could be laid off, even if they are doing a good job, he added.

"[Employers] can only hope for the loyalty of employees that is based upon our personal beliefs, integrity and morality that we've learned -- hopefully from our parents, and in our maturing as adults," McCaghren said.

The question of how loyal an employee is not so cut-and-dry, said Donald J. Wert, an application support analyst at Atlanta-based financial software provider IPS-Sendero.

"Moving on after receiving skills enhancement doesn't seem quite so bad, but if the company has given you new skills, then maybe it behooves you to stick around, if for no other reason that to gain experience putting those skills to work before moving elsewhere," Wert said. "A lot depends on the individual situation."

Employer-paid training with a contract

An employer should protect themselves with a contract sometimes referred to as a "training bond," said Keith Falconer, a managing consultant at IT outsourcer Computer Sciences Corp., in South Africa. A contract is used when training is both expensive and important to a specific job, Falconer said.

"An employer has an obligation to recognize the enhanced skill level and utility of an employee post-training," Falconer said. "Loyalty is, after all, earned and the employee must feel that they are appreciated and valued in their role. If this is achieved, there would be little incentive for an employee to move."

Michelle Hernandez, an application developer for Austin, Texas-based InCircuit Development Corp., said some companies hold training reimbursement from employees for up to several months after the training to protect themselves.

"The employee should try to put himself in the employer's shoes and truly reflect on why the employer is paying for training and what impact quitting has on the employer," Hernandez said.

Other contracts give partial reimbursement for employee training to employees, depending on the amount of time they have served with the company.

In the case of Michael Goodrich, the junior DBA who had no qualms about leaving his first employer for a better job, a contract would have kept him at the company longer.

"A contract would have made me feel more obligated to the company, but there was more to it than that," Goodrich said. "Even with the free training, I got the feeling that we weren't being respected anymore and that's why I was looking for something better."


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