In Search of Employee Loyalty

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Loyal employees work together as a team --

There was likely not a dry eye in the house when people began seeing the news photo of the Labrador retriever Hawkeye who mourned at the casket of his owner, fallen SEAL Jon Tumilson. The story of Tumilson, one of 30 American troops killed when a Taliban insurgent shot down a Chinook helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade on Aug. 6, was sufficiently heart-wrenching. However, add the photo of his loyal companion at his side until the very end and it becomes overwhelming.

As a small business owner or company manager, instilling loyalty into your workforce can be a difficult process. Part of the reason is because there are differing viewpoints on what actually constitutes loyalty.

This Isn’t Your Parent’s Loyalty

Those under 40 might not remember, but there was a time when loyalty was defined as staying with the same employer for decades. In fact, many Baby Boomers are part of a generation when working for one employer your entire career was a fact of life. Being rewarded for your tenure was a large part of being a loyal employee.

Over the years that version of loyalty has changed. Now, according to many human resources experts, loyalty is about being true and honest with your current employer for as long as you work there, whether that is three months or 30 years.

As workplace expert Lynda Gratton says in her March 14, 2011 Future of Work blog, “Serial Monogamy,” serial career monogamy is the new law of the land. For Lynda it is not about life-long loyalty, it is about being trustworthy during the duration you work for a person or organization.

Well-known career expert and Brazen Careerist Penelope Trunk echoes this sentiment, though she suggested that loyalty was changing way back in 2007 when she wrote the blog, “Employee loyalty isn’t gone, it’s just different.” No longer is loyalty a function of time, it is about workers finding a reason to align themselves with an organization, whether it is for a cause, a top-name brand, a shared vision or something else.

Create a Company that Commands Loyalty

It may seem like a tall order to command employee loyalty; however, there are actions you can take to build the kind of team that will follow you without hesitation.

First, one of the most important parts of developing a loyal team is to surround yourself with people who share a common vision and passion for the business of the business. People who are apathetic about their employer and job are less likely to be trustworthy and loyal.

Next, if you want loyal employees, find out what they want. In the January 27, 2011 CNNMoney article, “To keep employees loyal, try asking what they want,” contributing writer Anne Fisher spoke with Aflac Chairman and Chief Executive Don Amos. She found out that the company’s near-zero turnover rate has a lot to do with the fact that he routinely asks them what they want. In a workforce that is predominantly female, the top answers are more recognition and daycare.

In fact, benefits are one of the driving forces behind employee loyalty. The July 2011 MetLife’s 9th Annual Study of Employee Benefits Trends found that close to three-quarters (72%) of small business employees who are very satisfied with their benefits feel a very strong sense of loyalty to their employer, while 50% who are not very satisfied with their benefits would like to work elsewhere.

Finally, loyalty is all about you. Employees are loyal because of your interaction with them. “You matter most,” says Dr. David G. Javitch in the Entrepreneur article “Creating Loyal Employees.” How you behave, how you treat them and how well you perform as a manager will dictate how loyal your employees are.

Ultimately, loyalty takes time to develop; but as Tulmilson’s Labrador retriever Hawkeye proves, done right, it can last a lifetime.

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