Is employee loyalty a thing of the past? That's the belief of most managers nowadays. Want proof? "Most people change jobs every two to four years," says Roger Herman, owner of The Herman Group, a management consulting firm in Greensboro, North Carolina.
And the statistics worsen. In 1996, when Walnut Creek, California, personnel expert Ethan Winning surveyed 742 employees in six different industries, from high-tech to insurance, a staggering 67 percent told him their loyalty had decreased. "There's no doubt that loyalty is in trouble," says Winning.
Managers could scarcely expect other results. More than 4 million jobs have been "downsized" (read: eliminated) just since 1989, according to numbers collected by Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., a Chicago outplacement firm. "It should come as no surprise to management that employees feel unconnected to companies that have seemingly shown little regard for their well-being," says James Challenger, president of the firm.
"Downsizing changed all the old rules," adds Herman. "It fundamentally altered the employer-employee relationship. Employers once preached job security. The message of downsizing was that corporate loyalty to employees is dead. Therefore, employee loyalty also died."
Or did it? Granted, employees have every reason to be skeptical about a company that promises long-term security and asks for loyalty in return--that's no longer a believable deal. But just because the old reasons for loyalty have evaporated, does it follow that the loyalty itself has disappeared?
At least one source says reports of the death of employee loyalty are premature: "Employee loyalty isn't dead. It's simply taken new forms in today's job market," says Liza Fiore of Interim Services Inc., a Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, firm that specializes in job placement.
Don't be too quick to scoff: Interim has research findings to back up its optimism. Working with Lou Harris and Associates, it polled America's workers on their fundamental attitudes, and a strong trend emerged. "About 20 percent of today's work force are what we call New Loyalists," says Fiore. "These workers express high loyalty--41 percent say they are among their employer's most loyal employees--but they don't insist on long-term job security in return." In fact, 94 percent of the New Loyalists told pollsters that just because an employer can't offer long-term job security, that's no reason not to go out of their way to help them.
Come again? Strange as it may sound, a defining characteristic of the New Loyalists is precisely that they don't demand job security as the price for their loyalty. But they do have a price. "The New Loyalists will be loyal to a company as long as they continue to receive what they need to grow," says Fiore. In other words, keep giving New Loyalists opportunities to expand their skills, and they're very content.
Just how do New Loyalists define what loyalty to their employer means? "It's not about how long you stay with your employer but the contributions you make while you're there," says Fiore. Chew on that. While no small business can honestly guarantee lifetime employment to its employees, almost any entrepreneur can give workers plenty of room to grow on the job. That's because the entrepreneurial company's lean staffing and flexible organization typically result in generous opportunities for ambitious workers. And who wouldn't celebrate workers who come to the job with the attitude that they want to contribute in many different ways?