People Smartz

Loyalty - is it right to expect it from employees?

Tony Perkins - Wednesday, June 09, 2010

A couple of days ago, I had a long conversation with one of my clients. His lament was one I have heard before from business owners - that staff these days are no longer "loyal" to their employer. There is an endless amount of research regarding the difference between generations, and the changing face of our workforce and really I don't intend to go into those in this blog - what I would like to talk about is an often missed part of "loyalty" - that of individual identity and identification.

Let me explain by using myself as an example - I spent a good period of my life in the Navy.  If you were to ask who I was, I would say I was a "Sailor" - it is how I identified myself to myself.  In fact, if I was talking to someone with a naval background I'd probably take this further and describe myself as a "Yeoman" - a title that would not mean much to people outside the Navy.

Now over the years, I have begun a new career, founded a company and been fairly successful in my endeavours.  I truely enjoy the work I do, dealing with clients who are pursing their own dreams and goals.  While my personal picture of myself has altered, there is still that element of my description which says "Sailor". 

My point is that this personal identification has created in me a certain amount of loyalty to an organisation I left quite a while ago.  In my mind, that recognition and loyalty is still there.

For Business Owners, it is easy for them to identify themselves with their business - after all they own it, run it and are responsible for its success or failure. 

Sometimes it is hard for them to understand that their employees may not feel the same way about the business.  But after all, if their employees have had no opportunity to "recognise" themselves as part of the business - what have they got to be loyal about?

Speaking to my client the other day, we begun discussing this in relation to his business.  He is a very hands-on type business owner.  For him, his employees are people who come in, do a days work and then leave - the business is his to run. 

While talking, he begun to share some of his own experiences about when he felt the most loyalty to his own employers.

With this - he realised that he couldn't really expect loyalty from his staff if he was not offering them something to be loyal about.

I left him to think this over and consider what actions of his own were actually leading to the situation that was annoying him.

I'll let you know how he goes over the coming weeks.......


Yolande Pritchard commented on 09-Jun-2010 04:20 PM
So true Tony. Being in the Navy etc is a conditioning where you have to follow orders as your team/country relies on you good or bad. Congrat's for your career change, it takes a lot of courage. Staff will never work has hard as the buisness owner, the enthusiasm just isn't there and if it was, they would start there own business. I believe that if you treat your staff right and hire the right person for the job in the first place then loyalty is expected. I'm not saying they have to work for the same buisness for 20 years, but definately dedication, reliability and hard work. If you hire anyone to fill the position then I think this is bad news for everyone envolved. I think people have now realised that there are so many opportunites to follow your dreams 'so to speak' and I would highly recommend this despite age. One word; respect!
Julie Kay commented on 14-Dec-2010 07:30 PM
I agree very much that loyalty is based in identifying with the company and/or its purpose. In fact, it was highlighted to me again by the fact that also being ex Navy (Royal Navy in my case) I immediately felt a bond with you through that shared identity. While I take Yolande's point, I don't think working hard and loyalty are the same thing. Through my work as a leadership coach I often work with very committed hard working staff. When their leaders also focus on building this sense of identity and shared ownership these staff feel integral to the business and recognise the key contribution they are making. This leads to emotional commitment and sharing of their best ideas and solutions rather than just working hard. Julie
James Papiano commented on 25-Feb-2011 09:44 AM
Tony, You make an important distinction. I would answer, No, it is not right nor is it practical to expect loyalty from employees. In fact, it seems to me that the entire notion of loyalty to a company is misguided. That is not to say that employers and employees can't have long, meaningful, and beneficial relationships. But when this happens I don't think it is a result of loyalty. A quick scan of the thesaurus gives us a clue why loyalty is the wrong concept here...synonyms include allegiance, faithfulness, obedience, adherence, homage, devotion; steadfastness, staunchness, trueheartedness, dependability, reliability, trustworthiness, duty, dedication, commitment; patriotism; historical fealty. While we would certainly want people to be true, steadfast, trustworthy, dependable and reliable, and dedicated, the idea of allegiance, faithfulness, obedience, adherence, homage, and devotion are not appropriate for most employees in most organizations. And the combination of all of these concepts loaded into loyalty confuses the matter. Nor is the idea of employee loyalty symmetrical: a business has a life of its own and has no allegiance to employees if the numbers don't add up. Employment is a commercial relationship at its core and it operates under commercial rules--not devotion, homage, or obedience. Admittedly, using "loyalty" and "employee loyalty" were more commonly used int he past. But nowadays, In it sounds antiquated, especially compared to the word "engagement" that is more commonly used today. Engagement here is not as in the military sense (since you mentioned the Navy) or in the betrothal sense, but more in the way marketers use it: when a brand captures the hearts and minds of its prospective customers. This framework for engagement is a two-way street that is more about building a relationship and trust. And it doesn't carry the same asymmetric, all-or-nothing baggage of "loyalty."
James Windsor commented on 03-Apr-2011 06:35 AM
Someone said recently that "Money is the reason people leave jobs; culture is the reason money becomes important in the first place." I think that goes a long way toward explaining how the two-way street of loyalty really works. Treat people well and let them thrive, and loyalty has a secret - people stay where they are happy and valued.

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