Here’s a nice, deep question to ponder. How loyal are you to your company? This question came to mind as I was planning the family finances for the next few months. I got a “Frequently Exceeds Expectations” rating on my performance review this year, which came with a 5% pay increase – the largest pay hike in more than 10 years. With this bump, my take-home pay should finally exceed my 2008 take-home pay. Every year since then, my pay increases have been less than the increases in health insurance premiums, and the dreadful 2010 healthcare law has drastically increased my out-of-pocket medical expenses.

Thus, the thought occurred to me – what is my level of loyalty to my company? On one hand, the rewards for good performance have been tiny in recent years, and of course those at the top have had much larger pay increase percentages. On the other hand, the pay you start with at this company is really good.

What about culture? All the big companies have a “work-life balance” narrative. Within the company, some work groups do try to practice it, while others have a culture of workaholism (if that’s a word). I’m fortunate enough to have a manager who actively works with those under him to develop themselves and broaden their skill sets. Some of my work friends are in groups led by thin-skinned, immature, insecure managers who try to keep everyone under their thumb, micromanage, and do everything they can to keep their people away from anything that even smells like professional development. Working in the nuclear area as I do, there are great people, but the nature of the business is that you have to plan for the worst-case scenario in everything you do. We can thank public perception for that. The “environmentalists” (I’ll sand-blast them in another post) have spooked everyone into thinking that every kilowatt of electricity generated by any means other than wind and solar farms is going to kill us. OK, I’ll give you coal, in its current form. Gas isn’t nearly as harmful, though far from perfect. But there’s nothing wrong with nuclear power, other than it takes a gajillion dollars to build a reactor. Once you build it, it’s just as clean as renewables, cheapest to operate, and extremely safe. The “environmentalists” want you to believe that every one of the 98 nuclear reactors in America is going to blow up, Chernobyl-style, tomorrow. So those that work in nuclear divisions of electric utilities have to act like that’s really true. I haven’t found it yet, but I’m sure there’s a written procedure for properly going to the bathroom. There are procedures for EVERYTHING.

Some people thrive in this environment. Seems like most of the people in this section of the company come from the Navy where they did time on a nuclear submarine. If you like rules, regulations and structure, and are detail-oriented to the point of distraction, this is the place for you. If not, this a very tough environment. If you’re more free-spirited, run the other way. Fast. I like to think I pay attention to detail, and that I’m fairly organized and disciplined. But I know there are plenty of people who demonstrate those traits much better than me. Sometimes this worst-case scenario world really gets me down.

Then there’s the matter of opportunity for advancement. As I mentioned, my manager is good at helping his people stretch themselves. Part of my 2016 plan involves identifying other functions where I can learn new skills. I long ago concluded working in administrative support was my career (as opposed to just being my job), and within that profession, advancement opportunities are quite limited. We have had a number of executives depart/retire recently. As that has happened, the executive assistants are picking up multiple executives to support. Other than the very top of the org chart, the days of one EA supporting one executive appear to be over. So there are fewer EA positions to be had, and the ones that have them are, like every other profession, staying in them longer and retiring later. So, strictly from an Executive Assistant position prospective, my position looks like a dead-end job. That’s why Boss Man wants me to expand my skills.

Does the company believe you are valuable? Here, it is again dependent on the group you are in. I feel my group does value my contributions. I’m not entirely sure the company does, based on general policies. Of course, as an electric utility, engineering is the most valuable knowledge to have. And, like every large company, many other types of work have to be done – accounting & finance, human resources, project management, administrative support, and many others. I sense my company values engineers over all others. If you have an engineering degree, you have the run of the house. You can do pretty much whatever you want, including going to education seminars and the ease of paying for it all with the company card. Admins in particular get no such love. We are allowed to use company funds to pay membership dues in ONE professional organization. (Since IAAP dues are nearly double that of Toastmasters dues, I use the corporate card for IAAP and take care of Toastmasters myself.) Admins generally do not get to use any company funds to go to conferences or seminars, even though the education sessions are what we heavily rely on to keep professional certification current. This is a hard one for me to get past, because it sends a clear message to the admins that we are not as important as the engineers. This notion is, of course, crazy. Someday the admins here need to get together and organize filming a documentary full of engineers engaged in hand-to-hand combat with a broken copier, and the nearby admin coming in to rescue him. Bet we win $10,000 on that TV show.

When you think about the amount of time you spend with your spouse and the amount of time you spend at work, there’s not a ton of difference. If you’re in one place long enough, the job/company is like another spouse. For me, the timelines are very similar; including my contractor time, I started at Duke Energy about 11 months prior to my wedding day. So leaving here would probably have a similar emotional impact to a divorce.

So in the end, I do feel some sense of loyalty and obligation to the company. Not enough that I would never consider other places, but enough that I want to see if there are more good things in store for me.