Misplaced Loyalty: Staying When It's Time To Go

By Keith Carlson, BSN, RN, NC-BC

For a nurse, workplace and employer loyalty is a concept that can be important in terms of feeling a sense of belonging and meaning as a nursing professional. If your employer takes care of you and makes you feel valued, being loyal in return is quite normal. However, if your sense of loyalty is getting in the way of making a positive change in the interest of your nursing career, that’s another situation altogether.

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The Positive Side of Workplace Loyalty

When a workplace is a good fit and you feel good about the part you play, loyalty to your employer, team, and colleagues happens without conscious effort or thought. When you feel like a part of something meaningful—and not just another faceless cog in a wheel—that sense of meaning pervades your relationships with both your colleagues and the organization as a whole.

Nurses’ loyalty is a powerful force, and fierce dedication to an employer can be a source of positive change and improved patient outcomes; after all, it’s only normal that happy and healthy nurses will provide higher quality care.

When nurses feel individually and collectively devoted to their employer and workplace, they take ownership of their actions, independently seeking creative and innovative solutions to problems – this is the very definition of intrapreneurship.

Moreover, a team with low rates of attrition lends itself to group cohesion; when nurses feel satisfied and there’s less coming and going of staff, the sense of family and unity grows. On the other hand, if nurses are always getting hired and subsequently quitting, the workplace will feel unstable, and loyalty is undermined.

Simply put, a solid workplace characterized by camaraderie, cohesion, and satisfaction simply breeds loyalty.

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When Loyalty Gets in the Way

Whether we like it or not, loyalty can sometimes become a barrier to change; we can feel loyal to our employer, our patients, and our colleagues, and this feeling of dedication, while admirable, can also serve as a ball and chain.

Let’s say you work in a high-pressure environment where your long-term relationships with patients pay certain emotional dividends despite your being  relatively overcommitted to your patients. Let’s also imagine that your employer is less than stellar, and you feel burned out, undervalued, and disposable. In this particular situation, your loyalty lies with your patients, not with your employer.

In another scenario, you’re employed in a facility that treats you well and promotes a positive, satisfying workplace culture. When a new, attractive opportunity comes your way, it becomes extremely difficult to leave for new horizons since you feel dedicated to your wonderful employer and the investment they’ve made in you. This loyalty, while resulting from a positive employer-employee relationship, can still be a roadblock that stands in the way of forward movement.

Whether your loyalty is to your patients or your employer, it can serve to hold you back if you’re not willing to examine your motivations closely in an effort to ascertain what lies beneath this feeling that you just can’t leave.

RELATED: Signs That It’s Time to Move On In Your Career

Loyalty Is A Double-Edged Sword

Loyalty is a double-edged sword; it can keep you in a good situation for good reason, and it can also pin you to a toxic situation for less positive reasons. The important lesson is to maintain awareness of the seeds of your loyalty, its underlying motivations, and the ways in which staying or going might serve or not serve your nursing career.

There’s nothing wrong with well-deserved workplace loyalty; we also must at the same time sit with the conundrum that loyalty can, at times, lead us to make decisions that are contrary to our highest professional good. Monitor your feelings of loyalty, and make career-related choices based on the true needs of your career.

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Next Up: Next Up: Informational Interviews and Your Nursing Career

Keith Carlson, BSN, RN, NC-BC is a Board-Certified Nurse Coach, award-winning blogger, nurse podcaster, speaker, and author. Based in Sante Fe, New Mexico, Nurse Keith’s work has appeared in a variety of online and print publications.


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