Don’t Make Assumptions About Employee Loyalty

Employee loyalty is not solely an organic phenomenon. Here's what employers can do to assess the level of loyalty in their organizations and plot a strategy to address any shortcomings.

Laura Machan, Partner, Recruitment Solutions, LHH Knightsbridge
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employee loyalty

Are your employees really into you?

After a year in which many organizations helped their people transition to working from home and provided all manner of other professional and personal supports, many no doubt think they’ve earned some loyalty. That assumption may be even more acute in organizations that summoned their entire reservoir of resourcefulness and creativity to avoid layoffs or furloughs.

After a year like we’ve had, you can safely assume employees are ready to show their employers a little love, right? Maybe, but a recent LHH Knightsbridge poll conducted via LinkedIn suggests that goodwill is not translating into a desire to stay in their current jobs.

According to the poll of 680 respondents, eight in 10 workers are looking for a new job right now, with seven in 10 saying they are “actively” pursuing new opportunities. Another 12 percent are not looking for a new job but would consider moving “if the right job came to me.”

Only eight percent of the respondents said they were happy in their current jobs.

No matter how you look at those numbers, they strongly suggest that as much as people appreciated what their employers were able to do for them during the pandemic, they are still interested in new career frontiers.

The big question for organizations is, of course, why?
It’s been my experience that even in the absence of a crisis, many employers over-estimate the affection and loyalty that their employees feel for them. The reasons for this vary, but the most common include:

  • Misinterpreting tenure for loyalty. Many organizations assume that long-serving employees, some of whom may have worked in the same job for a very long time, have stuck around because they’re happy. In fact, the opposite could be true. Many long-tenured employees feel “stuck” in their jobs and resent the lack of opportunities to broaden their career scope.
  • Top talent remains in short supply and high demand. Even in a global labour market flooded with pandemic-related furloughs and layoffs, there is still a high level of need for specific skills and top-talent. Employees with those in-demand skill sets, or the capacity to transition into related fields, still have a lot of leverage in the jobs market. And the survey data shows they are ready to use it if the right opportunity comes along.
  • It’s not just about the paycheck anymore. Even before the pandemic, employees were beginning to put increasing value on things like accountable leadership, learning and development and flexible working conditions. In particular, many people are prepared to leave their current jobs to go to an employer that offers them the chance to learn and expand their career options. This is particularly so among the dominant Millennial generation.

What can employers do to assess the level of loyalty in their organizations and plot a strategy to address any shortcomings?

  • Measure. Most organizations claim they are keeping an eye on engagement. But a once-a-year survey that produces data that is mostly ignored is not an effective plan to address engagement. Your employees want to see that you are acting on engagement survey data with concrete measures. You may even need to adjust your survey process to account for pandemic conditions. And then show your people that you really are committed to making the changes that build higher engagement.
  • Re-invent. As our poll results show, there is a huge and growing demand for new career opportunities and experiences. It is possible to create those opportunities internally through upskilling and redeployment. This is particularly important for line managers, some of whom no doubt have been in the same job a long time. Give people new opportunities and then help build the pathway for them to move and grow within your organization.
  • Share. One of the biggest complaints from top talent is that their organizations do not share information about internal opportunities consistently and transparently. Finding out after the fact that there was an opening in an overseas assignment, or the chance to lead a new team, is maddening and disheartening for ambitious employees. Make sure people know where the growth opportunities are and how they may be able to get in on new roles.
  • Talk to your people. It’s critical to engage employees in regular career conversations to determine if they want to pursue other opportunities within the organization (redeployment/reskilling) or move up the leadership ladder. This should be done for all employees, not just the high performers or high potentials. 
  • Reassess hiring. With a global skills shortage and top talent in such high demand, you need a hiring process that is thorough yet agile in those instances when you need to go outside the organization. Endless interviews and leisurely deliberation will mean missing out on top talent, many of whom will be fielding multiple offers when they’re out on the open market. In the talent game, if you snooze you will lose.

Employee loyalty can translate into all sorts of positive benefits: increased productivity, discretionary effort, enhanced creativity and innovation, and the willingness to promote an organization as a great place to work. But loyalty is not solely an organic phenomenon. It is something that must be cultivated and sustained.

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