“The game has always been about money and accruing it.
It’s never really been about the people who help that process.
And therein lies the death of company loyalty.”
~ Ted Bauer, “The Context of Things”
Loyalty is a misconceived concept in business. Whether you are an employer or employee, assuming that someone may remain loyal to you until death do you part, is positively delusional. Business has always been about profits and prestige, and never much about how the little guy feels. Sure, talented and qualified professionals are given consideration, but not necessarily to the exclusion of all else.
How do we know this? Because the post-war generation has learnt this lesson the hard way. Those that stuck by their employers for forty years were rewarded with a gold watch and a pension. Job security was more about sticking to your job than the company taking care of you. It was convenient for companies to have these long-term workers because the older they got, the less likely they were to leave, and the more likely the company could exploit their pay. It was a comfortable, if dull, status quo for both sides.
Can we say those days are gone?
Yes and no. The modern trend is for businesses to take better care of their employees and act in their interests. The benefits – both cultural and financial – have been lauded, but many companies still put more into customer satisfaction than pleasing their employees. Those companies that do apply the new approach may simply be compensating for the scarcity of top talent – because they know that today’s workers have no qualms about jumping ship for a better offer.
However, things have moved beyond salaries and benefits to a whole different playing field. Across sixty years, each generation has displayed different goals, expectations and desires.
- The post-war babies (the Baby Boomers) have been through the workforce and possibly presented the unhappiest group of the 20th century. Long-term loyalty, in their view, has been scantily recognised and rewarded. But then, one has to consider how much of that loyalty was the result of the circumstances of their time; fear of being out of work, lack of support in difficult social situations. Was it loyalty or fear that kept employees conveniently harnessed to the wheel?
- Generation X looked primarily to career development as motivation to stay or leave an employer. Lack of career progress is still their main reason for frustration with companies that have lagged behind with training and personal development opportunities.
- Millennials (aka Generation Y) react less to stability, career or reward – but seek that often elusive element in the working world called ‘fun’. They seek challenge and variety rather than security and a high wage. Corporate responsibility programmes are important to them. If the company is working towards positive societal change, they are more likely to stay and contribute to this.
How can we restore trust and loyalty?
Today’s uneasy balance between employer and employee may never go away. Companies do not exist to create jobs or make people happy – they exist primarily to make a profit. Likewise employees should accept responsibility for their own development, advancement and job satisfaction. Being happy is a personal decision that nobody else can make for you.
The forces of economics, education and technology are always at play. If companies choose technology over personnel, they are entitled to do so. If employees offer the right qualifications and experience, they are within their rights to expect a fruitful relationship with a preferred employer.
However, there’s no doubt that things have changed in sixty years: many employers today are millennials themselves – startups, entrepreneurs, trial enterprises, small business, innovators and disrupters – and the nature of companies has changed. There is more horizontal reporting and less starchy hierarchy, workers and employers share goals and drive commitment and reward as teams – and the working world is the better for it. Here’s what employers can do to improve their chances of attracting and retaining the best:
- Ensuring good training and quality management
- Being open-minded about change
- Valuing staff as people and not purely on production
- Working as determinedly to reach employee hearts and minds as you do to reach your customers
- Appointing managers able to display leadership that is both motivating and considerate. This relationship is fundamental, and should be continually monitored and improved through open dialogue that engenders trust on both sides
- Initiating greater transparency between employer and employee – goals and expectations of both parties should be clearly expressed at the time of hire and reviewed after an agreed period of time
- Improving staff communications so that boring emails, newsletters and meetings present more personally, and motivate more individually; data reflects that greater creative vision and engagement in internal communications can lead to more investment and co-operation in internal relationships.
The new work order
The practical facts: Today’s organisation may be expected to provide more interesting and challenging work, but the employee is still expected to produce the relevant results. When either side is no longer fulfilling this contract, the relationship will end.
- The concept of guaranteed lifetime employment has died. As a result of market turbulence and business disruption, the concept of lifetime employment with one company doesn’t even exist for most employees today.
- People nowadays are more loyal to their careers than companies. They no longer stick out a job waiting for a promotion or a raise, and have no problem in moving on to another company for a better deal.
- Downsizing and restructuring over the last three decades has taken its toll on employee loyalty. The trend has been to load the risks on the employees, often leaving once proud employer branding in tatters.
- Access to opportunities is no longer limited to one country. Today, you can be based anywhere in the world, and employed by an organisation on the other side of the globe. This means more choice, more freedom, and less commitment to one organisation.
- However, employee expectations of meaningful, challenging work, plus employer expectations of their contribution to business growth and customer service – plus the insecurities of a dynamic working world and unpredictable financial markets – creates an ongoing tenuous balance, no matter who works for whom, where and for how long.
AMcomms: The Can-Do Company
We believe that matching corporate cultures and candidates is a fascinating field. Bringing employer brand value to the notice of top talent is fundamental to the process of recruitment. There’s a delicate balance between career aspirations and business objectives, keeping brand value alive and candidates interested. Continual reassessment is needed from companies and potential employees alike. We are committed to keeping connections relevant and encouraging constructive communication. It’s what makes us successful in an ever-changing landscape. We can, and do, get people talking.
Find out more about our services at: www.thecandocompany.co.za