Ways Your Job Could ‘Betray’ You & How You Can Prepare Yourself For Success

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Loyalty and betrayal are basic values that define our relationships, based on the continuum between the two.

Many people in careers spend most of their waking hours working in organizations with people they come to depend on.

So, when matters go awry based on misunderstandings or events beyond your control, you may feel especially vulnerable and betrayed in your trust.

When you've been betrayed by others, it's devastating.

A betrayal is an act that violates trust.

A spouse is betrayed by an affair. Embezzlement is betrayal between a professional and a client or employer. 

Betrayal is when someone you trust lies to you, cheats on you, abuses you, or hurts you by putting their own self-interest first.

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How could your job betray you?

You may carry this belief that your loyalty and integrity should be honored and rewarded at work.

So, naturally, you feel betrayed when your organization or the supervising boss seemingly deceives you through arbitrary actions by layoffs, demotions, transfers, revision of roles, and reversal on agreements.

A disconnect between personal values and the realities of work. 

There's often a disconnect between your personal value system of loyalty and betrayal and the reality of work.

The traditional model looks like this: Management expects your dedication because they bought your loyalty. Employees expect stability because they've performed work well and devoted the time and energy to satisfy the demands.

Seeking a sense of belonging.

You want to believe that loyalty is rewarded, so you invest identity with the organization. You belong.

Significantly, employees have anchored this relationship for esteem for themselves in their lives, identity, and sense of belonging.

Organizations, managers, and workers can come into this relationship with a clearer sense of what the reality is and become trenchant in how to prepare for a better working relationship, based on different assumptions and actions to mitigate the damage of a tempestuous environment.

Covid-19 has accelerated toxic dynamics at work.

The turbulence in work relationships has been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

What will future work relationships be and how will we cope or even thrive in a stormy, changeable world of work?

One way to better navigate the ongoing turbulent storm is to adjust our attitudes, beliefs, and actions to prepare ourselves to seize the opportunity, increase our options, and succeed, despite inevitable uncertainty.

Conflicts of interest in work relationships.

Your manager is not automatically going to do the right thing for you because, to some extent, your interests are at odds.

He may tell you to strive for a work-life balance. But, if you want to grow and you want to advance, you may have to work weekends.

So, one of the most insidious things that a manager can tell you is to be comfy.

The truth is that it's Saturday or evenings when you get to do the extraordinary stuff. It's the stuff that's not required by your job during normal business hours.

So, success in many organizations usually means sacrifice in work-life balance. Different organizations and managers have differing expectations about urgency, time, availability, and work pace.

While your boss and organization may press you for more work, do not expect that this extra effort will really count in your favor when the time comes that they want to "cut you loose."

In order to succeed in most careers, you have to work beyond conventional hours and do not expect a reward will be acknowledged. But, you will also become more proficient and capable in your work.

Understand the work context.

There's a hierarchy of loyalty that makes an important distinction.

Higher-level executives are expected to be more loyal because they are paid a lot of money.

Full-time employees have some job security and are expected to be somewhat loyal.

Contingency workers are hired with no guarantee from the company. Staffing has been more contingent for this reason, due to greater flexibility to respond to market conditions.

It's easy to feel that everything is stable forever. But it's irresponsible for management to propound that as true and unwise for workers to buy into the stability myth.

Different market structures have different norms.

What's a norm in one market structure may be considered a betrayal in another.

A postal clerk or municipal worker can expect continued employment, but private and non-profit employees do not have this guarantee.

Wage labor has exposed itself to a market-driven economy. The relationship between employee and employer is different; the norms are destabilized.

The conventional norm is longevity. But, now, the loyalty structures are disrupted, so it's not as obvious that somebody should be loyal to their company like they might've been for IBM 20 years ago.

Market norms now dominate.

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You can hold your organization and management responsible by using these principles and practices to align expectations to your reality.

1. Have they prepared you for adversity and explained reality?

This may be counterintuitive to how many managers view instilling loyalty. It's incredibly hard to be paid to betray. One is never supposed to tell people you're not going to betray them.

But here is what happens in a bad downturn: Everyone is at sea, and it goes all the way up the management chain.

So, you're worried about your job, your manager's worried about their job, everybody is afraid. And you may feel completely stable because of your relationship with your manager, but your manager is not stable, and their manager is not stable.

Given all of our current assumptions that there's a degree of loyalty, but when something goes wrong, people don't actually have the control to not be betrayers or not be loyal.

2. Will they do the best to mitigate the damage?

Your expertise or job description may become expendable.

Your manager should help prepare you to be successful in other roles and expand your experiences and expertise. It's easy to take what employees had to give right now.

But, a good manager can increase longevity in your career.

If you can learn enough to be adaptable, then you can have a more successful transition. When cut loose, you may still feel betrayed at the time, but you are going to go on and have a successful career beyond this job.

3. Do they protect you and manage the economy of work?

Managers understand that the organization could undermine the group. Good managers do the blocking, so their people do not get manipulated or exploited.

They should protect you from the organizational dynamics, so you can really work on what's important and valued by the organization.

What does it mean to be a good manager? What does it mean to be productive?

The value of the work itself has to do with how you allocate it, how you win it, how you make sure that it continues to be high-margin work every time.

4. Do they give back longevity to your career?

Do they mentor you to understand how to succeed so you can move on?

They can show you skills like:

Managing the economy of work and how to not take time-wasters or projects set up for failure
Managing the manager to be predictable
Selling ideas and initiatives in the organization and to clients
Leveraging your strengths and accomplishments in the organization
Challenging you beyond your comfort zone of experience and expertise so you can grow

You're responsible for your own career.

If you can understand the reality of your work relationship and be prepared for surprises and setbacks, then you can not only mitigate your feelings of betrayal, but also but build your future success by managing your work to work for you.

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Jeff Saperstein is a career transition coach. For more information on how he can help you land your dream job, visit his website.