Loyalty and Long-Term Employment, Are They the Same?
While providing some technical assistance to an organization a few years ago, it became apparent to me that a very pleasant employee, who had been with the organization a very long time and who seemed to be liked by nearly everyone on staff, had learned to do just enough to fly, unseen, under the performance issues radar and really contributed nothing to the organization.
Later, in a conversation with the organization’s chief executive, I asked him to tell me about the employee, who for the purposes of this article will be referred to as Joe. He described Joe as “a great guy,” “very likeable,” and “very loyal.”
My follow-up question was, “Tell me how Joe has demonstrated his loyalty.” The ensuing conversation between me and the “Exec” went something like this.
His response was, “We have had an extremely high turnover for a number of years, but Joe has stayed with us when so many have not. He could have taken a job somewhere else, but he has remained loyal to us.”
Me: “Has he told you he has had opportunities to work other places or do you know of specific places that he had the opportunity to take a job and did not?”
Exec: “No, not really.” I just know that with the high turn-over rate we have had, he has chosen to stay with us.”
Me: “Could it be that Joe is just not motivated enough to apply somewhere else?’
Exec: “That’s what I am saying. He is loyal to us and does not want to go anywhere else.”
Me: “Has Joe ever done anything here that would make you think he is the best employee on your payroll?”
Exec: “Not really.”
Me: “Has he ever gone out of his way to make another employee successful?”
Exec: “I don’t recall him ever doing something like that.”
Me: “Does he volunteer to take on tough assignments.”
Exec: “I don’t believe so.”
Me: “Has he ever offered solutions to problems the organization was experiencing.”
Exec: “Hmmm, not that I remember.”
Me: “Does he ever do anything for the organization that is not in his job description?”
Exec: “Now that I think about it, I am not sure.”
Me: “Has he grown in his current job over the years?”
Exec: “Not really.”
Me: “If every employee you have did their job the way Joe does his, would you think your organization would be the most outstanding organization in the state?”
Me: “Is there anything about Joe other than he is likeable and he is still on the payroll that makes you think of Joe as a loyal employee.”
Exec: “I am beginning to think that maybe Joe is not as loyal as I thought he was.”
Me: “I think you are right. I think you have been confusing loyalty with comfort, lack of motivation and long-term employment. I think Joe is just comfortable, not loyal. He doesn’t seem to be contributing anything significant to this organization and he lacks the motivation to apply for a higher job here or to apply for a job somewhere else.”
This is a rather long introduction to this month’s column, but I wanted to make a strong point — loyalty has nothing to do with length of employment, blind obedience, or unthinking devotion. The things that demonstrate an employee’s loyalty are:
Integrity – Employees who consistently seek to do the right thing are not just following a personal credo – They are also looking out for the long-term interest of the organization in which they work. Such employees are faithful to the company; possess strong feelings of care, responsibility, and bonding. They have a powerful willingness to make an investment in the organization and sometimes make personal sacrifices for the good of the organization.
Doing Their Best to Make the Organization a Success – Loyal employees make sure they do quality work. They per-form as if they own stock in the company. My Administrative Assistant who actually runs the office ensures that it runs smoothly. When making travel arrangements or purchasing supplies, she treats our company’s money as if it were her own. She makes sure we get the best price for everything we purchase.
Loyal employees are not limited by their job descriptions. When they see something that needs to be done, they do it. They volunteer for difficult assignments. They also become the “go to” person in the organization. Other people in the organization seek them out for advice.
Dissenting and Disagreeing – Loyal employees do not blindly accept every idea presented by the organization’s executive. As pointed out by Patrick Lencioni in his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, members of cohesive teams engage in unfiltered conflict around ideas. Loyal employees weigh the positives and negatives of a decision, sharing conflicting opinions and play the devil’s advocate. They create stimulating conversations that lead to better decisions.
Talking Positively about the Organization – When loyal employees talk to people outside their organization, they talk positively about where they work. After a decision is made, loyal employees get behind that decision even if they privately disagree. They don’t just pay the decision lip service; they support the decision as if it were their own and work toward its successful implementation. Truly loyal employees put aside their feelings and actively try to make every decision the right decision – instead of undermining it or wishing it would fail so they can prove themselves right.
Asking Questions Others Will Not — Many employees hesitate to voice their opinions or feelings whether in a group set-ting or in a private meeting.
During a meeting, I once had an employee ask me a question about a new initiative I had just announced to the group. After the meeting, I pulled her aside and ask her why she had raised the question since she had been on the planning committee that developed the initiative.
Her response was, “I was not asking for me. Some of the people in the room had expressed some concern about it and yet they were not asking questions in the meeting, so I thought I would give you an opportunity to explain it and answer the questions they had, but were hesitant to ask.”
Loyal employees have a great feel for the issues and concerns of the people around them, and they ask the questions or raise the important issues when others won’t. They know that if the organization is going to function well, the executive needs to know what employees are thinking and employees need to know what the executive is thinking.
Preparing You When They are Going to Leave —
As you have realized, truly loyal employees are not your aver-age employees. They are usually your best employees – the ones you hate to see leave. However, they often do. They leave for a variety of reasons – a better opportunity, their spouse is being transferred, or to do something entirely different that they have always wanted to do.
When it is time for them to leave, they will tell you. They will help you in any way they can to fill the hole they create by leaving.
When that time comes, be as loyal to them as they have to you. Wish them well and remain a resource for them as they begin a new adventure.