What exactly is employee loyalty? At one time, it meant living up to your end of the employee-employer bargain. You would be loyal to the company and the company would be loyal to you. Rampant downsizing, corporate restructuring and poorly managed organizational change have resulted in a broken trust bond with employees and therefore less employee loyalty.
This traditional “trust bond” relationship was based on the premise that an employee’s loyalty could be measured by the amount of time he or she spent on and in the job. Long hours and long service meant a loyal employee — one who was willing to make personal sacrifices for the betterment of the organization. It won’t come as a surprise to know that this model of employee loyalty has dramatically changed.
Today, employee loyalty means that I give my full commitment to the job — while I’m on the job. Progressive leaders do not equate loyalty with longevity and hold the view that it is quite possible that someone who has been with you for 20 months can make a greater contribution than an employee who has been employed by the organization for 20 years. This shift in mindset must begin with leaders.
No longer can leaders depend on an employee’s “sense of loyalty” to meet the organization’s goals. This sense of loyalty is hard to measure and even harder to create in a time where workers are constantly reminded to be loyal to themselves. Rather than worry about a “sense of loyalty”, leaders who can appeal to a person’s “sense of value” will find themselves rewarded with strong commitment and contribution.
There are four key things that any leader can do to create this sense of value:
Communicate Context — Ensuring that employees have a sense of why their work is important is the best way to ensure that the desired outcome will become a reality. When I know how my job contributes to the bigger picture and what the consequences are if I am not successful, I am more likely to make sure I don’t let down coworkers and customers who are counting on me.
Practice Fairness — There has been much written about fairness in the workplace and the dichotomy in treatment within organizations. Putting aside differences between executives and workers, one doesn’t need to look far to see more practical examples within workplaces. I recently worked with a group of employees who were complaining about the unfairness of a cake being brought in when a manager was having a birthday while employees were not privy to a similar celebration. At every level of the organization, people react when they feel that they are victims of unfairness. Remember, the devil is in the details — it is important to seek and understand how employees are feeling.
Tie Verbal Recognition to Contribution — The old “'atta girl / 'atta boy” version of recognition is not cutting it in today’s complex working environment. Employees want meaningful feedback and praise that reinforces their value and contribution. When expressing your appreciation for an employee’s specific efforts to meet a customer’s need, you are demonstrating your understanding of their contribution to the organization’s success. This technique also reinforces context, helps employees understand what behaviors are important and ensures that these key competencies are repeated.
Ensure Meaningful Rewards — Let’s face it, buying a dozen donuts once a month just won’t cut it. Today’s employees are seeking meaningful rewards. Given the impending shortage of top talent, it is really the highest-potential employees that we are at risk of losing if we fail to tap into their need for reward. At the most basic level, this starts with acknowledgement. This can be as simple as demonstrating to an employee that his or her contribution makes a difference and providing rewards that tap into their personal interests.
These key leadership strategies, coupled with an overall commitment to creating an environment where employees can thrive and grow will ensure the organization is rewarded with strong employee loyalty.
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Wendy Phaneuf is a professional speaker and author and a global expert in employee motivation and retention. Wendy is also the Founder of The Training Source and www.LeadingforLoyalty.com — a one-stop information source that helps leaders and their organizations enhance employee motivation and retention.