I was on my way home from a client who’d just told me that they’d lost their star performer, the employee they’d invested all their hope, time, and commitment in. The client was devastated, and asked me does employee loyalty exist? Good question!
In the current working environment, the tables appear to have turned, and employees aren’t staying with one company for a long time anymore, leaving without qualms, for greener pastures. The one reason – well certainly here in South Africa – is that there is a skills shortage, which makes it easier for employees to be selective about their jobs. But could there be other reasons for why people leave their jobs? Remuneration seems like a logical answer, but when conducting deeper research, it’s not the true answer for why we lack employee loyalty. The answer is multi-layered, but can be divided into three core elements: culture, leadership, and employee happiness. I will touch on each of these aspects, but first I’d like to go back a step and explore what employee loyalty means.
Does Employee Loyalty Exist?
Yes, it does. Most would agree that employee loyalty is an employee’s commitment to working hard and being dedicated to the company’s success. It’s about putting the company’s interests first, and in return, expecting reciprocity such as stimulating work, a positive culture, growth opportunities, regular feedback, and collaboration, etc. Remuneration is a given, and is considered a fair exchange between skills, work tasks, experience, and knowledge.
In short, employee loyalty exists but remuneration doesn’t buy it- reciprocity does. This means that there needs to be a fair exchange, and herein lies the challenge. That exchange can become distorted as time goes by, with blurred lines between what the company and the employee expect from each other.
The Difference between Employee Commitment and Employee Loyalty
We need to clarify that commitment and loyalty are not the same things. Most committed employees are naturally loyal, but the reverse doesn’t necessarily hold true. Loyal employees don’t have to be committed. How can that be? Loyal employees are happy with their working environment and happy to perform their tasks. In contrast, a committed employee goes above and beyond and expects more from the company. Loyal employees will be passionate advocates for the company as long as it is good to them and satisfies their needs. A committed employee usually demands a positive working environment, growth, supportive leadership, motivated goals, and an inspiring vision from the leader.
The 3 Components of Employee Loyalty
At the beginning of this article, I said that employee loyalty is based on three things: culture, leadership, and employee happiness.
1. Organisational Culture for Employee Loyalty
Research into culture, conducted in 2019 by TINYpulse, shows that 43% of people leave their current jobs for one that has organisational culture, even if that would involve taking a salary reduction.
Companies today are facing a culture crisis. Culture is a key differentiator for employees to stay, or to be attracted to work in your organisation. In reality, how many companies really put energy behind their culture? Most have their values stuck up on the wall and believe that a year-end function is enough to keep the culture alive. Maybe that was good enough twenty years ago, but in this current dynamic working environment, it isn’t. Not for the organisation, and not for the employee.
If you want to start changing the culture in your company, you need to be prepared to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty because this takes time, commitment, and dedication. If you don’t put energy behind your culture, it will form itself, and it seldom develops in a positive way. Employees want to be heard, valued, and appreciated, so make that your starting point. Begin by talking to your employees and find out what frustrates and delights them about their work. You may be wondering what that has to do with culture, but the answers will assist you in establishing patterns and behaviours that need adjusting for positive growth.
2. Good Leadership Builds Employee Loyalty
The second component is leadership. We’ve all heard so many times that employees leave leaders and not companies. But did you know that the percentage is as high as 70%? That means that with good leadership, companies have it in their control to instil employee loyalty.
We all know that in this day and age, leadership is an enormous responsibility and challenge, but it’s also an exciting one because we’re living in a time where we can explore opportunities and make decisions that shape our kids’ future. Leadership is complex, with a lot of emphasis on acquiring the necessary soft skills to lead people, and I’m a huge advocate that those are absolutely necessary. However, when I speak to employees, three common topics always come up, and I’d like to suggest that leaders start working on them.
First, employees aren’t always clear about their roles and responsibilities, as they have not been well defined. Second, they’re unsure how their work contributes to the team’s goals and therefore to the company’s success, which makes them feel that their work doesn’t matter. Third, they feel as if they’re not being listened to when they make suggestions or give ideas.
3. Employee Happiness is Key to Employee Loyalty
The third and final component is employee happiness. I’m not talking about pool tables or Friday pizzas, but rather about getting to understand what makes people happy in the workplace. The answer might surprise you, but employees are looking for mental stimulation. They want to work on tasks that are not boring and routine-based, but ones that allow them to think and apply their skills and knowledge. I know we all have to perform standard tasks that we don’t enjoy that much but are part of our job, but it’s about mixing in activities that challenge us.
You can approach this in two ways: (1) you can assign activities to employees based on your assessment of their skills and competency, or (2) you could make a list of activities that need to be done, stick it up on the office noticeboard, and let people write their names next to the thing they want to do, preferably with a buddy. The key message here is to give employees autonomy to choose that thing that they want to step up to.
A much overlooked aspect of employee happiness, is that employees want to feel emotionally safe at work. This means that they can express themselves freely, receive support during challenging times and when they make a mistake, and are able to build trusting relationships.
In Conclusion: Employee Loyalty Exists but it Takes Effort
Employee loyalty is certainly difficult to attain, and companies have to work hard to ensure that their star performers stay. I have provided three areas for you to start working on so that you can ensure that your employees – who are your biggest asset – stay for a long time and give you the commitment and hard work that you’re expecting from them.
Don’t forget that I’m an email away if you need support. Contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.