Loyalty in the Workplace

Column by Jeffrey Campos

By Jeffrey Campos
Posted

As a business owner of a recruitment firm, a prominent challenge that comes up with many of my clients which includes CEOs, senior management and human resource managers is the development of an employee retention strategy. Many companies follow a one-size-fits-all employee retention strategy that is relatively ineffective.

A targeted retention strategy is necessary to succeed in reducing turnover rates among key employee groups. An often ignored topic regarding retention I posed to my clients was the question regarding loyalty in the workplace. What was interesting was the CEOs projected loyalty was more similar to the employee loyalty of senior leaders and VPs. We did the same thing with supervisors and their projected loyalty was close to that of the staff. In fact, their projected loyalty was actually a bit lower than the actual loyalty of the staff.

So what does this mean? Well I think the reason for the gap in projected loyalty could be the result of a couple of things. It could be that CEOs have a more positive outlook in general and are more bullish about the company and the culture. It could also be the people they interact with the most for example; senior leaders, VPs, etc. have a fairly positive outlook which reinforces their already positive views about the company. I think the answer to this is maybe but it probably depends on the CEO. I know some CEOs that have regular meetings with staff-level employees to hear their recommendations and understand their complaints. These are CEOs who are not disconnected. I think some of this disconnect can also be attributed to middle management who maybe aren't letting the bad news travel upstream and aren't quite as positive about the company downstream.

Isn't the expression of loyalty technically supposed to go both ways? If an applicant is so loyal, then why is he leaving the employer? Are employees are supposed to be loyal to companies and companies are supposed to be loyal to good employees? Why are companies laying off good employees? In today's economy and seemingly desperate unemployment rate, it sure doesn't seem like companies are creating loyalty in the workplace. It seems as though, cost cutting, unethical behavior, and general angst become paramount while effective growth of an employee potential dwindles thus discouraging the employee and diminishing loyalty employee loyalty.

How we think about the workplace needs to shift. There are a lot of good things about many corporate or business culture, which makes you part of a team. Team chemistry is an important part of the equation. But don't forget, for even one moment, the workplace is first and foremost a business environment, and your being there is a mutual business decision. Companies make personnel decisions based on business, not loyalty. Some still allow loyalty to be factored into decision making, but that is quickly being phased out. It's all about dollar and cents now. Employees make business decision to work for companies based on the compensation and work that you would be doing, and they have hired you to do a job based on your skills and performance. I'm becoming more convinced loyalty in the workplace has become obsolete. Long gone are the allegiances that employees make to a company that seem forever binding, and stay in the same position for time until they retire. On the other hand, employers may overlook long-serving employees and see an opportunity to eliminate 'dead wood,' to infuse new ideas, and trim overhead costs.

There are solutions to these workplace issues. Some we have control over as individuals and some we don't. But, even the things we can't control can give us insight into establishing strategies that can help us make the right decisions when faced with a problem on the job. So to be successful in any work environment you should understand some things about human behavior and how to communicate your desires and needs effectively. The number one complaint I hear about the workplace today is that there is a lack of communication between employee and boss, between departments, and senior management and management staff. Many people, who have been fired, often don't even know why. As an employee a solution is to take responsibility for your professional career and ask your boss what is expected of you. Don't wait for your boss to tell you, by then it might be too late. Ask for details about each of your job responsibilities, at what level they should be performed, and when your boss expects these tasks to be completed. Do this on a regular basis and you won't be surprised with a bad performance review or worse, with your walking papers.

One of the largest percentages of an employer's overhead cost is employee salaries, but surprisingly, most employers don't pay much attention to it. Although the majority of employers feel they are keenly focused on profit margins and the bottom line, they generally base potential profits on things like production costs and sales, which are more tangible. This focus is dangerously narrow. They do not think about how much it actually costs to hire, train and retain good employees, and how much bad hiring decisions can hurt productivity and profits over time. In addition, most companies are not proactive in their recruiting practices. Instead, companies tend to be reactive, usually functioning in panic mode, trying to fill surprise openings. The days of the loyal twenty-year employee are gone! Most people will have at least ten jobs in their lifetime. The solution is to get some support. Internally, you can seek advice from your human resources (HR) department. This department should have some systems in place for conducting a search for new talent. Outside support is also essential, in the forms of using external educational training and retaining a recruitment consultant, especially if a company is trying to attract senior level or hard-to-find individuals. Secondly, sign up for a management training class. Many employers will pay for seminars and continuing education. Thirdly, take the time to ask the kind of questions that will tell you who a job applicant is, not just if they can perform the job tasks. It is the key to making good, solid hiring decisions. If you learn who someone is, you will be able to understand that person's interests, desires, needs, challenges and motivations. If you know who someone is, you will have the tools to be a more effective communicator and a better manager and co-worker.

Lastly, unethical business practices are more common in the workplace than you might think. Unethical behavior is why there is no loyalty in the workplace anymore. One problem is that few companies truly keep their promises to their employees, yet foolishly they expect their employees to remain loyal. Many employees have become cynical about management in general, largely because of companies' broken promises concerning raises, promotions, bonuses, incentives, enhanced benefits, and other work related matters. These days, loyalty is not the rule, it's the exception. Yet most employers expect loyalty from their employees. But loyalty is not a quality to be expected; loyalty must be earned. The employer, the one doing the hiring, must earn the respect and loyalty of employees if the company wants loyalty returned. You must work actively to earn trust every day.

Today's 'ethical leaders' always put their organizations' and employees' best interest first. Never expect something from your employees that you are not willing to do yourself. The stability and profitability of any company has a direct correlation to the way employees feel about their jobs. If you hire a candidate who is excited and ready to go to work, and if you treat that person as you would a friend, someone whom you really care about, you will see a resurgence of loyalty in your workforce place.