Loyalty Is a Two-Way Street

Our parents and grandparents came of age during an era when someone could start working for a company right after graduation and reasonably expect to stay with that same company until retirement. Not everyone followed that career path, of course, but this practice was so widespread that odds are good you know at least one person (and possible several) who spent most of his or her career at one company.

But things have changed. These days, most people move among several different jobs during their lifetimes, and the person who stays at one place for more than a few years is practically an endangered species! The old social contract between employees and companies has fallen out of style.

Some companies see this shift as evidence of decreased employee loyalty. Staffing experts have written blog posts and white papers galore bemoaning the fact that employees are constantly on the lookout for “the next, better opportunity” and rarely stay long enough for companies to recoup the investment in training them. Although Millennials are particularly singled out for such criticism (in part because they entered the workforce during a time when so-called job hopping became more popular and are therefore linked to the phenomenon), job hoppers come in all ages and have all sorts of motivations for seeking new positions.

Those same companies that complain about the lack of employee loyalty often forget, though, that loyalty goes both ways. Thanks to downsizing, outsourcing, and rapid technological shifts, even when employees want to stay with an organization, they often aren’t able to do so. “Why bother making a huge effort to retain workers,” some of those companies say, “when they’re just going to leave anyway?”

The result is a sort of stalemate: employees aren’t loyal to companies . . . because the companies aren’t loyal to employees . . . because the employees aren’t loyal to companies . . . and so on. Consequently, a company that wants employees to stay for a long time has trouble finding them, and employees that want a company that will take a long-term view of them can’t find it. Employees lose out on opportunities for professional development, training, and job security. And companies lose out on skilled and motivated workers.

Want your employees to stick around? Stop treating them as easily replaced commodities and start treating them as valuable assets. Make it clear to your workers that you want them to succeed (and not only because their success correlates to your firm’s success). Let them know that you notice—and appreciate—when they do excellent work and that as long as they do good by you, you plan to do good by them.

Shift your thinking forward: rather than assume that an individual will be working with you for only a brief time, approach training and placing that person as if he or she is going to be a long-term employee. Always remember that, today's temp could be tomorrow's permanent hire—or a lead on future referrals.

Making these changes won’t transform all of your hires into long-term employees. (Unfortunately, in spite of your best efforts, you’ll always have some turnover.) But rewarding your employees’ loyalty by being loyal to them yourself is one way to help guarantee they’ll be on your team (and not with your competitors) when you need them.