Tuesday, March 20, 2007


[This column syndicated by the New York Times Syndicate originally ran the week of February 28, 2005.]

"Let's say you take a new job with a new company," M.T. of Columbus,Ohio, wrote. "You agree to a salary, and the company pays for your move. Let's say three to four months later you find a similar job that pays more. Should you feel that you owe the company anything?"

It's a terrific question and one that many workers today face as they shift jobs with increasing frequency. M.T. has been going back and forth on the question with his wife. He wants to know what would be the right thing to do in such a circumstance.

His concern is well-placed. A company that invests in moving an employee and then training him expects he will stick around long enough to recoup its investment. But does that expectation equate to any ethical commitment for the employee?

Unless employees have signed a contract that commits them to work a set number of months before they bolt, I don't believe they should balk at seizing better opportunities.

If M.T.'s company relocated him, trained him, and then four months later announced a merger with another company that would result in layoffs, is the company obligated to keep him on simply because he uprooted himself and his family to take the job? No. In fact, M.T. might find himself among the first to go since he has the least tenure there.

Why then should he owe the company more loyalty than it would show him? While the civil thing might be for the company to help laid-off employees find new jobs and for M.T. to give enough notice for a replacement to be found, ultimately the responsibility falls on the company to do what is in its best interests and likewise M.T. for himself.

We all weigh our options and try to make the best decisions while trying not to do damage to others in the process. M.T. may value his loyalty to his company, but he might value his commitment to caring for his family more, and would be right to accept what he believes is a better offer for his livelihood and his family's future.

That said, we also must take responsibility for any fallout from such decisions. If M.T. leaves too many jobs after a short tenure, then future prospective employers might decide he's not worth a long-term investment. (And Mrs. M.T. may soon grow tired of so many moves in so little time.)

Likewise, any company that consistently lays off employees in what's deemed a move for the greater good of the company may find it difficult to attract the best candidates, since few quality people seek out job insecurity.

The right thing for M.T. to do is to weigh the opportunity against the possible downside and decide what is best for him and his family. If it's the new job, he should take it.

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