Is workplace loyalty dead?

loyalty I am not ready to hold a small sad funeral and bid farewell to a long lost idea and a forsaken ideology. The dearly departed: workplace loyalty.

I am not stupid enough to believe though that the days of the golden handshake are any longer a reality.

Traditionally the dog has long been the icon of choice to suggest unquestioning loyalty. But, truth be told, a dog isn’t exactly a great choice for the loyalty pinup pet.  A dog has no free will when it comes to where it lives, and cannot go out and pick a new owner if the current one stinks. A dog’s inherent nature is to blindly devote its allegiance to an owner regardless of how it is treated, which opens the door for a one way loyalty transaction. And let’s be completely honest here, a pooch doesn’t need a whole lot to be happy either.

piperboyandcat1But a cat, well a cat has choice. A cat can come and go as it sees fit. Better living conditions and food next door might well mean your feline is lost to you. If your beloved cat stays, it’s because it is happy and content. In return, your kitty will supply you with an endless supply of devotion.  Loyalty involves some sort of freedom to choose. A cat is a hard one to please, but get it right, and the cat will stay with you for life.

The days of staying with a company purely because it is the proper thing to do, and because the relationship is somewhat mutually beneficial are long over. That dogma has been replaced by another, a completely different one. In it’s harshest form, employees are hired to fulfill a function, and can expect to be paid in return, that’s it!

In fact, an article in the Cape Times, June 4th 2012 quoted a Gallup poll which cited that 75% of the workforce in the US  is actively disengaged, they are emotionally disconnected from their work.  It is estimated that the figures for South Africa are very similar. Seventy six percent of full-time workers, whilst not actively looking for a job, would leave their current workplace if the right opportunity came along.

The negativity which invariably accompanies disengaged workers is as damaging as the continuous staff turnover, time lost in training new staff, and loss of productivity. This negativity spreads like a cancer. Workplace loyalty has become a rare commodity, a casualty of this new normal. Employees are dispensable, companies are callous, and employees are disloyal.

Yet employers will state that one of the characteristics they would most like in their employees and the hardest to find is actually loyalty. The current thinking is that loyalty comes at a price, and is predominantly financially driven, which is its downfall. This thought process additionally emphasizes that employees seem intent on flitting from one position to another enabling them to build impressive CVs.

Perhaps many employers today are unaware that the average employee has taken a relatively new stance and the trend has swung in favour of a desire for workplace fulfillment, and a need to feel valued.  Of course the desire for financial reward has not diminished, but the typical middle to upper class worker is searching for job satisfaction as a primary need from the workplace.

The reason is that fulfillment and happiness cannot be compartmentalized, for instance; work in one box, family in another. Add to that the fact that our lives have all become so much more complicated, and it becomes easy to see that the distinguishing  lines between work and everything else have become very blurred. A job is an extension of our identity.  Lastly, the ease at which employees can perform a substantial number of tasks from home has also dramatically changed the landscape.

Thus the conflict between what employers are prepared to offer and do to retain staff, and the expectations and wants of the employees on the other hand, more often than not provide a stalemate. In my opinion there has to be a reciprocal exchange of loyalty. But which comes first?

Show me yours, and I’ll show you mine.

Loyalty (1)

My loyalty to the company is contingent on the company’s loyalty to me. But the party with tremendously more power is the company.

What is it that makes an employee feel that a company is loyal to them? The most commonly stated missing traits are an employer’s inability or disinterest in acknowledging a staff member. A lack of respect, being betrayed, taken advantage of, hidden agendas, inflexibility, lack of opportunity, and a lack of recognition for the contributions made are all important deciding  factors. The bottom line is that an employee wishes to feel like an important cog in the machinery that makes up the company, no matter how small that cog might well be.  It is a question of value.

An employee wants a certain level of compensation, benefits,  career development, and an opportunity for advancement. In return, an organization requires the employee to put the company’s interests first, ignore other job offers, meet long term commitments, share knowledge and expertise, and evangelize the brand. It seems like a doable wishlist on both sides, and it’s not a difficult concept, yet the imbalances are significant and hence a vast chasm opens up, each party at an impasse.

loyalty 2

Something to ponder on for those employees who are questioning their loyalty to a company that doesn’t seem to reciprocate. Consider that the most important loyalty is loyalty to oneself. Know what your value is, understand your worth, and do not allow your employers to exploit you. As soon as you compromise on loyalty to your own values, a lack of job fulfilment is likely. As I see it, if you find yourself in that position you have four choices;

1. Retain the status quo, and continue to be unhappy. Whine about it to anybody who will listen.

2. Exercise your choice to leave, and find a company who will value you and reciprocate your loyalty.

3. Readjust your expectations, make peace with them, and get on with the job. Use the position to further your career.

4. Challenge your employer in the best possible manner, and try to influence the change you wish to see in the company. (But be  prepared to dust off your CV and wait for your gradual ousting.)

The solution lies in the hands of the organization, and in my view that solution is not about a special ‘program’ or a company initiative, although these can certainly be beneficial.  Its a culture that spreads right from the top. Don’t think that middle management can handle this one on their own.

How the CEO conducts his or herself is the catalyst, and it filters down. It’s approaching every single person in the company and imagining that they have a sign hanging on their chest that says ‘I am important’, and making sure that they are valued.  It doesn’t need to cost money, but it certainly costs effort. The rewards will always outweigh the costs. Always.

tandem2The tandem bicycle is perhaps one of the best analogies to illustrate the importance of reciprocal workplace loyalty. Anyone who has ever ridden one will tell you that it takes two.  The rider in the front is in control, they steer the bike, utilize the brakes, change the gears. The rider at the back plays a big role in balancing the bike and powering the bike forward, but  realistically the person at the back can use the person in the front for a free ride. Just by turning over the pedals with very little effort, the bike will limp along, never reaching maximum speed nor climbing potential. It is damn hard! But the greater the motivation of the person riding at the back, the more effort he or she will put into the ride, and the greater the result.

Look after me and I will look after you.

“Make business decisions that favour employees over any and all considerations” @samanthaperry

In the same manner in which an employer scrutinizes a prospective employee’s CV, considering how long on average that person stays in a position, so it has become important for that prospective employee to gauge how long the staff retention time frame of the company is.  The higher the turnover of staff, the less likely it is that the company is good at  loyalty best practice.

It’s not for nothing that the companies that are voted “best to work for” are routinely also some of the most profitable. Is your company on the South African Best Employers 2012/13 List? Loyalty matters as much as it ever did. Both ways. If you want more value from your staff  show them how much you value them. Money is a fraction of the answer, loyalty needs to be earned.

Stop giving lip service to creating a fantastic place for your employees to work, and focus instead on actually doing something about it. Consistently.

Loyalty is a culture, a crucial culture, and it starts right at the top.

Thank you for reading my thoughts, please feel free to challenge my thinking, comment or share 🙂 Find me on Twitter @thewrightrich