In most industries, the days of the gold Rolex for 25 years of service have come to an end. Hoping your employees will stay with your organization out of sheer loyalty or to prove a resolute amount of intestinal fortitude is no longer the key to retaining the vital leaders within your team (or the future leaders waiting-in-the-wings). The war for top talent has created a pendulum effect that fluctuates between a candidate-driven and an employer-driven marketplace. Despite this pendulum, there are organizations that consistently secure and retain the best and the brightest and create a thriving culture that engages, enriches, and fulfills the employees within their walls. Coincidentally, these organizations are some of the most successful; for example, Southwest Airlines’ year-end results for 2015 marked the airline’s 43rd consecutive year of profitability!
Nevertheless, with some organizations excelling in the area of employee engagement and retention, the tenor in the marketplace is that this is the exception – not the rule. This shift began over three decades ago, when dramatic organizational restructuring swept through nearly every corner of the globe. Yes, companies have always laid off employees, but a healthy number doing so primarily for the benefit of shareholder value shifted the game. Career ownership became the responsibility of the employee, not the organization; that shift resulted in a level of self-interest and preservation that was passed down through future generations – including the ones entering the workforce today.
Yet a study conducted by Deloitte recognized that over 55% of millennials do not anticipate leaving their jobs in the next two years, even if given a choice. The Society for Human Resource Management found that 88% of U.S. employees reported overall satisfaction with their current job in 2015, marking the highest level of satisfaction over the last decade.
In this way, the idea of employee loyalty is certainly not eviscerated, but it is imperative to acknowledge that loyalty is evolving. Loyalty is not dead, but a different question should be asked instead:
What are employees loyal to?
The Human Element
Strong leaders are the most important source of growth, inspiration, and long-term employee engagement. Take an active role to make sure managers are trained to inspire employees, share their expertise, and offer opportunities for growth. This can be taught, monitored and managed just as much as the achievement of sales quotas or quarterly objectives.
Sam Walton, Founder of Wal-Mart, shared: “Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.” Empowering employees and boosting their self-worth breeds trust, and that trust breeds loyalty. Loyalty is earned, and the strongest manufacturing plant is human connection. It is done by enabling the successes of others, improving the performance of others, giving meaning to tasks, and modeling the behaviors you expect.
Loosen the Electronic Leash
Technology is designed to increase communications, but it can also have an adverse effect. Many managers and leaders would rather send an e-mail or leave a voicemail than actually talk to their team face-to-face. Employees require real-time and personal communication; even in organizations with thousands of employees, each manager and department head should be required to schedule regularly occurring face time with their staff.
During these personal interactions, this is a prime opportunity to assess if the employee feels as though they are contributing, using their talents appropriately, and are evolving in their role. Ask fundamental yet essential questions such as:
- Think back on a time in which you felt like you were the most fulfilled, really doing what you loved. Is that now? If not, what can we do to get you back in more of that element?
- How am I (as your manager) doing for you? What am I not doing that you wished I would?
- What is a 7 that could be a 10? I know we are doing certain things well, but what is good that could be even better?
- If another opportunity were to surface, what would make you take note? In other words, what are you not doing right now that you wish you had the opportunity to do?
- What is the biggest obstacle that is keeping you from being most effective or meeting your goals?
Asking these types of questions may seem counterintuitive; why bring up issues that may not need to be brought to the surface? But the more the answers to these questions can be discussed openly and a collaborative partnership can be cultivated between employee and leader, the stronger the trust and the greater the loyalty. If people have the ability to provide open feedback related to the organization and their career, they are less likely to leave to find what they need. Inspire loyalty by giving employees a sense of freedom and control.
The Big Picture
“Organizations are not a source of security but they are a source of identity,” says Bill Taylor, Co-Founder of the magazine Fast Company. People want a company that they can attach their identity to. The common thread in all this loyalty? Being part of something bigger than yourself. People are drawn to an environment where they are not just recognized for their own achievements, but by aligning themselves with a bigger purpose. Give them what they need, and they will rarely leave.