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Dear Bob,

I’m an IT manager in my early ’50s. I’m employed by a small-to-midsize company, responsible for a small-to-midsize department. My team is outstanding, I get along with my manager pretty well, and for that matter I get along with most of the execs and managers here.

The company is well-regarded in its space and we’ve made some interesting moves recently that are helping us grow. The company culture is congenial, and while jobs here aren’t generally 40-hours-and-home, the style certainly isn’t bop-’til-you-drop, either.

I earn neither top dollar nor bottom, and between us, my wife and I make more than we spend … quite a bit more … without ever thinking we’re doing without anything.

I need your advice.

I took a call from a recruiter the other day. Bigger company, bigger IT department, bigger challenges, more money. My question: Am I being disloyal and unethical for even talking to them? Completely nuts?

– Restless

Dear Restless …

Let’s start with your ingratitude, disloyalty, and lack of moral fiber.

An analogy: You’re married to a woman you like and who treats you well. You have a nice home, live in a nice community and all that.

You’re minding your own business at lunch one day when a beautiful woman approaches you and says, in a low, husky voice, “I’d like to get to know you better.” Would talking to her be disloyal or immoral?

The two situations have an interesting number of parallels, assuming, that is, you consider zero to be an interesting number.

There’s a reason they’re called marriage “vows.” You and your wife took on personal obligations to each other. While it’s sometimes called a “marriage contract,” unlike legal contracts, marriage contracts have emotional content.

I hope.

So except for those adventurous folks whose marriage vows are, shall we say, more expansive than the norm, exploring new opportunities constitutes an act of betrayal. By my standards, at least, that’s immoral.

Your relationship with your employer has, in contrast, no emotional context at all. It can’t, because your employer isn’t a person (sorry, isn’t a “natural person”). Corporations lack the neural and hormonal wiring for emotions. Your relationship with your employer is in the realm of legal contracts and quid pro quos, not emotional commitments.

Put simply, there’s no such thing as cheating on your employer, at least not in the same sense as cheating on one’s spouse. Your obligation is to trade an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. Business practice over the past thirty years or more has made this explicit: Employers have no obligation to be loyal to employees.

Quite the opposite: As SCOTUS makes corporations more “human,” corporations increasingly turn employees into resources and “human capital.”

So exploring other opportunities is completely ethical according to the standards of behavior established by the business community.

Whether it’s a good idea for you, right now, is a different matter, and an uninvolved third party can provide only limited guidance.

I have no answers for you. Just a few questions, whose answers might provide at least some guidance:

  • Do you need the additional money? I can answer that one. No, you don’t, and if you take a new job just to chase the money you’ll regret it. I’d bet as much as a quarter on this.
  • Is what you really need a new challenge? It might be. Especially if you lead a terrific organization there might not be very much for you to do; at least, not much that’s particularly important.

If that’s the case, talk to your manager and ask for a bigger challenge — some project beyond your day job you can sink your teeth into.

  • Are you simply suffering from wanderlust — a desire to see what’s over the horizon, just because you haven’t been there before?

There’s nothing wrong with that. In the end, when the subject is what you want to do with your life, all the logic in the world has only purpose, and that’s to figure out what will give you the most personal satisfaction. If this is the case, while pursuing the opportunity is risky and more likely to leave you worse off than you are now, failing to pursue the opportunity will result in regret.

There are worse emotions to feel than regret. I’m not sure what they are, though.

Which brings us to your last question — whether you’re nuts. The answer: beats me. If you’re concerned, get a shrink to administer the Minnesota Multiphasic.

All I know is, this isn’t a symptom.

Comments (8)

  • Great column, Bob.

    It’s worth noting, however, that there’s the possibility of regret whichever choice Restless makes. And I’m not sure that regret over a missed opportunity is worse than retreat over leaving a job situation you like for one that you find you don’t like.

  • It’s difficult to assess the working culture of an organisation until you’re part of it. If you’re lucky, you might know someone whose judgement you trust who knows what it’s like to work there. But it sounds like your current outfit is (in your opinion – and that’s the one that counts here) well above average, so chances are high that a move will leave you worse off culturally, even if better off financially. How much of a trade off you’re prepared to make is, naturally, entirely your decision.

    I agree with Voltaire – in this, as in so much else in life, “the best is the enemy of the good”.

  • Welcome back Advice Line! I’ve missed you [it]! As usual, your advice hit the nail on the proverbial head — “company disloyalty” is an invention of Catbert, the evil HR director, to keep good employees without improving their situation.

  • Great column Bob.

    The employee is 100% for career development. Moves internally or externally should reflect what’s best for the career portfolio,

    And I could not agree more about moving only for the $$.

  • I find myself in a similar situation. I have been heads down creating an Architecture Roadmap, putting a team in place to deliver that architecture (Solution Architects and Several Engineering departments). The work is nearly complete; its time for a new roadmap. Stay in a familiar environment or move to new fields? The hinge point is that I have hand selected the team and many are here becasue they embraced the vision and wanted to be part of it and for the leadership I’ve provided in getting there. Moving means abandoning the team and starting that process all over someplace else. What’s a person to do. And Bob, in this case there is a lot of emotional content. It’s been quite a journey we’ve made together. All the vision and strategic direction in the world is absolutely useless with without the best Solution Architects and Engineers to make the solutions real.

  • I am not convinced that a company is not a “person”. Especially for a small-medium congenial workplace the company is not just an entity in which to trade your time for its money but rather a living breathing collection of souls that have collaborated and worked hard together to form something great that did not previously exist.
    As Bob says: Relationships matter. It is those relationships — the company’s heart, as it were — that you risk by sneaking around talking to outsiders.

  • I agree with the comments above. I moved three times after I was fifty and about eight times before, all involving the corporate world. If you and your family have lived in one place many years, a move can be much more wrenching so the social and cultural matters probably should receive greater weight in the decision.

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