Loyalty, engagement, commitment, putting the company’s interests first… all ways to describe the kind of employee relationship most employers crave. However, now many are beginning to think “employee loyalty” is dead.
There is an excellent article posted on the Wharton/UPenn blog entitled, Declining Employee Loyalty: A Casualty of the New Workplace. Whether an employee or employer, I encourage you to give it a read as it paints an excellent picture of loyalty in the modern workplace, and how we got here.
I don’t know if employee loyalty is dead, but I have a pretty good sense that it’s on life support. Most organizations we talk to struggle to measure the bottom line impact of loyal workers, but believe engaged employees are more productive, contribute more to the organization’s success, and place a premium on employee loyalty.
On the other side of the equation, most employees say they want to work for an organization that “looks out for its employees,” pays attention to their career path, and provides opportunities for growth. These are the things that would make them want to stick around, despite feeling underpaid.
Some say the employer/employee relationship is no different from any other. The company and the worker each make an investment in the other, and expects that the level of commitment, energy, and effort put into the relationship be reciprocated.
I’m betting we have all have experienced a “one-sided” relationship in some area of our life (friends, partners, business relationships, even with companies, restaurants and brands) and ended up walking away from it because we’re just not wired to put up with unfairness or inequity for too long. We simply expect to get back what we put into our relationships.
This is not a difficult concept and forms the basis for much of the analysis of the state of employee loyalty. Essentially, most in our industry see the lack of engagement, or employee loyalty as an imbalance between the “stuff” employers offer and the “stuff” employees really want. Employees have their list; certain level compensation, benefits, 401(k)’s, career development, opportunity for advancement, etc. and employers have their list; putting the company’s interests first, ignoring other job offers, meeting long term commitments, sharing knowledge and expertise, and evangelizing the brand, to name a few.
So, we go back and forth tweaking the equation on both sides to try to achieve balance. In this exchange, I often hear statement like, “You can’t expect employees to be loyal, if you’re not providing opportunities for career development and advancement.” Or something like, “If the company is willing to lay off workers to achieve shareholder value, how can they expect employees not to consider other job offers as they come along?”
So, here is why I chose the title of this entry, and what I know about long-term, committed relationships. The title has to do with a proclamation that says one reign is over, but another is beginning – and I believe that is the case with loyalty. What I know about long-term, committed relationships is this:
First off, they are not equal, even, unbiased, balanced, and most definitely they are not fair. But we don’t enter into them for fairness, or to get an equal measure of something in return. When we truly engage in a relationship with energy, passion, and commitment, we are not concerned about getting our fair share.
The second point is this; if our commitment is to the other party in the relationship, it will most assuredly fail. I know what you’re thinking but hold on… At best you’ll hit a few snags, bumps in the road, have a few differing points of view. At worst you’ll be deeply divided over important issues, at complete odds with each others’ ideologies, or feel like you’re giving your all with not much coming back your way.
This is where commitment to outcomes, and results trumps individual requirements of staying in the relationship. Long-term relationships survive the bumps, not because the parties are committed to each other, but because they are committed to an ideal – something greater than either party’s “self.”
You want employee loyalty? Don’t ask for employees to be loyal to you, or your organization. Give them a mission, a vision, a purpose to commit to. And if that mission ends in 6-months, 1 year or 10 years, so what? Do you want to haggle or change the world?
The working relationship is changing -and so is the idea of loyalty.
Is it cold and impersonal to create a strategic workforce plan that may mean moving individuals in and out of the organization to achieve success? Is it disloyal for an employee help an organization grow to a point and then take their skills to another small company where they can shine?
Am I suggesting there is no value in building more than a contract relationship here? No. What I’m suggesting is that when companies begin to honestly and openly share their vision of success, and show each employee how they contribute to that success – things like great benefits, or advancement opportunities become less a part of the loyalty equation, if not all together irrelevant.
The truth is, many of the fringe benefits we see today were born out of employers trying to keep employees from unionizing decades ago. Yes, there are dozens of examples of great companies who attract and retain the industries best talent by creating an employee-friendly environment.
But for the vast majority of organizations, play-structures, scooters, swanky cafeterias, and massage rooms are not part of the loyalty equation. And for the vast majority of employees – they don’t need to be.
I believe that if you show your employees exactly where you’re company is headed, what it will take to get there, and how they contribute to that success in specific, transparent detail you’ll experience a new kind of employee loyalty – not to you, but to the cause. Not only that, but if each of you come to the conclusion that the worker either can’t, or no longer wants to participate in meeting the goal, breaking up isn’t hard to do, and neither side questions the other’s loyalty.
Is employee loyalty important in your organization? Who/what do you think is responsible for driving loyalty? I would love to hear your thoughts with a few comments below. I know you have an opinion!
Another infusion of knowledge…