Let’s be clear right from the off. Companies aren’t football teams. No matter how many emails internal communications send out talking about how the firm is one big family, it’s nothing of the sort. Your employees work there because they get something out of it, and when they get a better offer elsewhere, they’ll leave.
Company loyalty is not an illusion, however. People may not love their employer, but they can be emotionally invested, especially if they work in a tightly-knit team. Camaraderie, purpose and familiarity can be just as important as money or hours in career decisions.
Employees can be grateful too, for years of being treated well. It may not cause them to turn down a better job offer somewhere else, but at least they’re less likely to leave you in the lurch when they do quit.
We still want loyalty then, but is there any of it left? You’d be forgiven for assuming that the trend towards smaller job tenures is a sign of a more avaricious modern worker, with a mercenary’s sense of loyalty. But that would be jumping the gun, says Nigel Heap, UK MD for recruitment company Hays.
‘It’s the tenure that’s dropped rather than the loyalty. There was a sea change around the turn of the century, with the end of the job for life, but we haven’t seen a particularly dramatic decrease in loyalty over the last 10 years,’ Heap says. For shorter tenures, blame instead the secular trends towards project work and agile firms heavy on the contractors.
Whatever the reason good people are leaving, the fact remains that it’s expensive and disruptive when they do. Loyalty can be a useful weapon in the fight to retain talent – and a cheaper one by half than simply paying above-market salaries. But how do you actually increase company loyalty?
Unsurprisingly, it’s less about giving them a warm hug every morning, more about making sure employees can see a future in your firm. ‘When people join organisations, one of the key things they look at is training, and not just when they join. If you want to create more loyalty, offer personal development training through their career,’ says Heap.
‘Where you can, promote from within. Have really clear and transparent career paths, and be evangelical about it. People need to know what they need to get to the next level.’ In general, more communication can’t hurt.
Beware of going too far, though. You don’t want to keep people at all costs, and that's not just because of the impact on your bottom line. ‘You can create an environment where there are no fresh ideas or fresh blood coming in. Remember no organisation has a monopoly on talent,’ says Heap.
Some turnover of people is clearly useful, so long as it’s not too extreme (‘then there’s no consistency of direction, culture or business model’) and so long as you don’t keep losing talent to your competitors (never a good sign).
The real trick, Heap says, is to find the right balance. ‘A good organisation has incredible loyalty for a relatively small percentage of its workforce. It only needs to be 15-25%. That’s the glue that creates the culture, and then you bring in lots of new people with new ideas and experiences of other employers. They’ve got to fit the culture, that’s critical, but they also help make the culture gradually change over time.’
No matter how much loyalty you want in your workforce, it’s important never to forget that it goes both ways. Ultimately, if you want your employees to stay, you have to treat them well.
Image credit: Stefan Krause/Wikipedia