The Limits Of Loyalty: Why Women Are More Loyal To Their Bosses Than Men

As the workforce moves faster than ever before, the need to move from job to job grows too. Here's a guide to help you handle splitting from your boss - when the time comes.

By Imogen Dewey


As the workforce moves faster than ever before, the need to move from job to job grows too. Here's a guide to help you handle splitting from your boss - when the time comes.

By Imogen Dewey

We don’t stay put at work anymore. “Our parents’ culture was of a job for life,” London-based executive coach and psychologist Dr Perpetua Neo says. “These days, even if you want that, there’s no such thing – so there’s a shift in the way we think about loyalty. You don’t show it by staying somewhere forever.” According to Australian social research group McCrindle, average job length is now 3.3 years – and while the under-25s have always career-hopped as they train, move around and choose a path, national tenure average is dropping for older workers too.

This is partly trend-based. Digital access means the freelance marketplace has boomed, there are more flexible work options on the table, and retraining and upskilling are the norm. Tech isn’t just changing the way we work; it’s changing the work itself. The Australian Jobs 2018 report reveals that while automation is still concentrated in the manufacturing sectors, there’s a shift towards “non-routine” roles and career progressions across the board. So why do women still experience such discomfort over changing jobs?

A ‘Woman Thing’?

Melbourne-based NLP practitioner and communications mentor Jo Hook says women get more hung-up on loyalty in the office – often to the detriment of our own careers. “That’s a problem for a lot of women: ‘loyalty’ is packaged in as part of being a woman,” she says. Hook and Neo claim we’re conditioned to focus on our obligations to relationships, to be agreeable, to put others first – and to feel guilty about doing otherwise. “’I don’t want to cause someone a hassle’: I hear that sort of language so often,” Hook says. “There’s more guilt for women. We all need to challenge it and ask: ‘What are we actually guilty about? Would a man stop themselves from taking an opportunity out of guilt?’ Probably not.” Hook urges us to think of loyalty as “environment-dependent”. “Some employers absolutely deserve loyalty (e.g. honesty, open communication, appropriate notice). Some don’t. It’s important to be aware of the environment you’re negotiating in.”

Illustrations by Patti Andrews

Loyalty And Burnout: When To Leave

Neo says women are more likely to stay in jobs that make them unhappy. “It’s basically the fast-track to burnout,” she says. “People give so much, suffer as a result and think they’re proving their loyalty. It becomes a vicious cycle.” Hook says we should give our employers the chance to fix what’s not working. “Be clear on what you want, then be clear about asking for it,” she says. If nothing changes, it’s time to go – don’t wait for resentment to build up. But sometimes a stale job is harder to spot. “When you’re loyal to a team, [it] can be like a personal relationship,” Neo says. “You make your life and yourself small in order to stay, because you’re enjoying yourself – and you get scared of wanting to leave.” 

Making The Call

Today’s increased job mobility may mean leaving jobs we enjoy, and bosses we respect, and companies that have nurtured us. Cue more (unnecessary) guilt. “It’s not like you’re ‘using’ a company,” Neo says. “You’ve given your life, your energy and your time, so you should be getting something back. You should always be looking to your progression. Spend the time, a few weeks or a month, to sit with this uncomfortable transition,” she advises. “It’s much more profitable than to just knuckle down and find yourself there six years later feeling like sh*t. It’s not a marriage. You haven’t made vows; you don’t owe them anything.” 

She asks clients to imagine their manager has been offered her dream job somewhere else. Would she take it? Of course she would. Would they still want to stay once she’d gone? Perhaps not.

Many of us are “over-wedded” to a job out of loyalty to a boss – something Hook sees all the time. “I work with a lot of creatives, and that emotional component of loyalty is often very strong, the I-don’t-want-to-let-people-down urge,” she says. “It’s really about managing guilt. Manage the discomfort of having to have a bold discussion. It’s great you’ve been headhunted, but it means you have to talk to somebody you’ve enjoyed working with.” 

Get The Announcement Right

Think about the issues your exit could cause and be ready to problem-solve: offer to be on call for a certain period (especially for senior roles), do a thorough handover. A supportive boss will want you to flourish, but be aware their priority is to minimise disruption to the business. “Frame it as an opportunity,” Hook suggests, “For the business to find someone even better than [you], to review the structure, or update a role that may have morphed.” 

Don’t get too caught up on thank-yous. If you have a good relationship with your manager, they shouldn’t be finding out about it at your exit interview. Let them know when they do something that makes your work easier. Thank them for opportunities as they arise. Clear and frequent communication (both ways) about where you’re at in your career means your decision to pursue a new opportunity shouldn’t be a shock. “Mature and purposeful conversations around these things are important,” Hooks says. Develop your communication skills around your career and manage your reputation as best you can. People talk. It’s important that any PR that comes up about you is as positive as you can possibly make it.”