Do organizations care about loyalty? (Editorial, April 22, 2002)

Staff loyalty is a thing of the past — a common refrain but is it accurate or self-serving?

The philosophy goes like this: Today’s generation of workers watched their parents be downsized, laid-off and rightsized, and they’re not about to let organizations treat them the same way. Not only are they suspicious when companies try to snare them with talk of loyalty and lasting commitment to the enterprise, but they are born in an information/knowledge age where their sought after brain power is easily transferable from one organization to the next. Hence they are highly employable and know it, so don’t expect them to be around for the long haul. Since this labour mobility can’t be circumvented, organizations must prepare for the new work reality and plan accordingly.

This leads to staffing strategies that look at shorter-term horizons, and involve capturing and sharing knowledge through processes and in databases before people take it with them to their next jobs.

This fluid approach to staffing also fits nicely with the emerging predisposition for contingent workers. People who can pop in, do a job and then move on without the need for considering what their next assignment (or benefit and pension needs) may be. Part-timers are also part of the equation. They help round out staffing holes as well — again without the consideration for future planning and payroll outlays.

The flexibility of contingent workforce planning is attractive, but are organizations being too quick to forego the advantages (such as commitment, internal memory, knowledge of the organization and its business and concern for the enterprise’s future) that fully committed full-time workforces provide?

Organizations are certainly embracing contingent workforce planning. Last month, the Canadian economy added 88,000 new jobs, Statistics Canada reports. This good economic news is the biggest one-month jump since StatsCan changed the way it calculates employment data in 1976. The figures breakdown to 40,000 full-time and 48,000 part-time positions. There is some concern that the high number of part-time jobs reflects a weakness in the economy, as the people taking these positions will not necessarily be earning the salaries they need to live on, therefore adding little in the way of consumer spending power. One thing is certain, the figures attest to employers’ interest in part-time work arrangements.

With so many firms favouring part-time workers, it’s no wonder many feel worker loyalty is a thing of the past. Corporate Canada often seems uninterested in giving anyone a reason or chance to be loyal.

“But people want part-time,” employers respond. Yes, some do, but not likely in the numbers it’s being offered, and this thinking needs to be questioned.

Do that many people really want flexible worklives where they are always on the hunt for new employers or contracts? Does Canadian society contain the high number of semi-retired workers and stressed-out parents who want (and can afford) an easier, flexible part-time position? Or is this all just a convenient way of characterizing the workforce to fit one’s only desire to avoid adding to permanent head count?

Part-time work is fine but HR should not convince itself that it is necessarily everyone’s first choice or in their best interests. Many part-time and contract workers want more security, and will be only too happy to join any of your competitors that offer it.

Loyalty is not dead. It’s just working part-time.

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