Is any relationship ever completely reciprocal? Not really, because one party always wields more power over the other. This is a human behavior dynamic that is tough to ignore, especially when we look deeper at workplace culture and team dynamics. There are leaders and followers, loved ones and lovers, employers and employees. We might like to think equality, common goals and unquestioned commitment are the norm but it simply doesn’t happen. It’s true in personal life and in the workplace.
Leaders today talk a lot about loyalty, retention, and the business value of empowering employees to be brand ambassadors. Nonetheless, research literature and blogs abound which discuss the erosion of employee loyalty to the workplace, especially among Gen X and Y. The prescriptive leadership and talent management advice runs the gamut, from changes in compensation structures to more flexibility in work schedules, team building and more, all aimed at encouraging employee engagement with the employer’s brand. But the worry persists and with good reason: can the damage inflicted on employee trust by years of layoffs, pay cuts, IPOs and benefit claw-backs be overcome?
So, is there a way to increase loyalty and engagement in the workplace? I believe there is, and it requires a near-equal exchange of information about the business’s goals and challenges and a shared sense of the value of work. This is true for CEOs and for employees alike. It’s a two-way street of respect and trust.
Here are 5 behaviors for leaders and hiring managers to adopt when struggling to keep employees happy and loyal:
1) Tell the truth
Not everyone is a star. Pick out those with leadership or other valued talent potential and nurture them. This will come back to the business as these individuals, in turn, nurture other workers.
2) Communicate roles and responsibilities
Provide a path to success not only for those with leadership promise but for all employees. Sometimes this will mean difficult changes, but remember the most important skill of a leader: never surprise an employee with bad news. Have a development plan for all, and a get-well plan for those whose performance lags. Make sure everyone knows the plan.
3) Create a workplace culture that values real people relationships
For many employees, workgroup relationships and relationships between managers and workers drive engagement and loyalty more effectively than foosball machines, logo T-shirts, and Thirsty Thursday gatherings.
4) Be fair and open
This does not mean treat everyone equally, it means have transparent processes for managing and leading. Employees are more likely to respond positively to change when the process used to manage change is fair.
5) Model the behaviors you seek
Just as the headmaster at the high school did, accept your responsibility as a leader and act with engagement, commitment and responsibility. Do this every day.
Each of us possesses skills, strengths, talents and flaws. Each of us seeks to belong, to be engaged, to relate to those around us. Loyalty is built on relationships, shared understanding and trust. Engagement and commitment require loyalty, shared goals and fair treatment. Don’t take loyalty and engagement for granted – create a remarkable culture where there are possible and rewarding outcomes of the workplace.
We are only human after all – Every one of us. Every leader. Every brand. Every workplace. Every person.