Loyal staff worth the effort (Editorial)

Engagement isn't a replacement for loyalty

Engaging employees is all the rage these days. Engagement is all about developing a workforce that is committed to the task at hand. Tracking employee engagement is a step up from earlier employee satisfaction surveys. It has come to employers’ attention that while one wants employees to be happy, one can’t assume productivity flows from such contentment. Many employees are happiest when they’re doing nothing.

So let’s get them happy and engaged.

But what about loyalty? Some HR watchers would say this is too much to ask for. The thinking is that loyalty’s just not something employers are likely to get today. It’s all due to a younger generation who watched their parents’ loyalty be rewarded with downsizings while executive pay climbed.

They’re not going to chain themselves to a disloyal corporate system. They’re mobile and they can take their skills to new challenges (which they need because they get bored easily after being raised on video-game entertainment). And not only have they figured out it’s better to dump their employer before they get dumped, they’ve also arrived on the workforce scene at the same time as an international labour shortage. The time couldn’t be any better to play a strong employee hand and jump from firm to firm whenever the grass looks greener.

For many employers battling to keep mobile employees, engagement has become a replacement for loyalty. “Since you can’t have employee loyalty, you settle for them being engaged and productive for however long they choose to work for you.”

Not so fast.

The “company man,” who starts with a firm after school and departs with a gold watch some four decades later, may be an image of the past, but the idea of employee loyalty isn’t dead yet.

Changing jobs and/or careers every couple of years is stressful. Pleasant working conditions and respectful co-workers are not found so easily, and mobile workers spin the workplace-culture roulette wheel every time they move. People want a workplace they can settle down with. So let’s not give up on the notion of long-term employees so easily.

Yes, there are some professions and sectors in particular where employee loyalty is difficult to achieve — areas where shortages are driving fierce competition for staff, or creative positions, such as advertising, where employees are more like free agents. But for the majority of organizations, garnering employee loyalty is still a viable strategy.

A study of 279 Canadian CEOs entitled Route to the Top, conducted by SpencerStuart earlier this year, found that 73 per cent of chief executive officers were hired internally and on average spent 17 years working for the same organization. That’s strong evidence that the path to the top includes the concept of employee loyalty and many leaders are buying into it.

Loyalty’s not dead. It’s just harder to earn, but worth the effort.

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