Employee loyalty is out; employee pride is in

January, 2022

Women in meeting

Let me forward this by saying that recruitment agencies are an excellent tool for modern companies. Of course, it takes time to align positions with an agency and for them to understand your interests. As with any type of consultancy, a learning curve is involved for both parties. Recently, however, I had a small but heated confrontation with one agency. The reason for this minor spat was simple – the agency insisted that job seekers are searching for work merely because they intend to “sell their time”. To me personally, this notion seems wrong-headed. I would neither like to view my potential hires as merely “time sellers”, nor would I like them to follow this approach.

I am not saying that there are no situations where the “time selling” approach is expected or, in fact, is preferable. There are plenty! Consultants, lawyers, coaches, freelance designers and members of various other professions are essentially businesses in and of themselves. At any given time, they are involved in multiple projects, allocating their hours accordingly and trying to maximise their rewards. But should this mindset stay the same when one decides to join a team?

I imagine that the way management typically frames the relationship with their employees is partially to blame here. After all, Human Resources is not just a department, it is how we refer to people these days. And the line between someone considered a “resource” and a “time seller” is very thin. Resources are replaceable. People are not, contrary to some popular sayings.

Another reason for diminishing employee loyalty and record-high attrition rates (not to mention the Great Resignation) is the fact that many jobs today do not seem fulfilling. On the surface, they do look like ways of earning a living, nothing more, nothing else. One, of course, could argue that it depends on the type of work one is tasked to do. But does a software developer always have more pride in their workplace than a cashier in the supermarket chain they represent? I do not like this argument, as it calls for grading types of jobs and the perceived value of different professions.

Still, let’s follow the developer and cashier analogy for a bit. A developer stuck in a job they hate, a workplace that they personally perceive as low status, will feel worse than a cashier working at a supermarket that treats them with respect and pays fairly. You have probably noticed that some supermarket chains have happier staff than others. The actual work conditions (tasks, hours, responsibilities) might be quite similar about the market but the way a person feels at the job differs.

Employers of yesterday have been stuck with the idea of employer loyalty for far too long. The biggest problem with the whole concept is that loyalty is expected “just because”. It is perceived as a form of gratitude. Gratitude for a wage, gratitude for bonuses, gratitude for perks. You can see how this is totally in line with the time selling approach we discussed earlier. A simple form of exchange. What it lacks is an intrinsic reason for loyalty. One that would transcend the formal relationship between a person, their team and their employer. I am talking about pride. Pride in what you do, pride in whom you work with, pride in shared results, and so on. Much like the pride a football player (or a football fan) feels for his or her team.

I don’t think there is a simple secret formula for instilling pride in your teammates. On the contrary, the issue is rather complex. As pride is connected to status, raising the company’s profile might help. A business is not just about making money, and a business that has no higher purpose is not something that will be appealing to employees in the long run. Making sure that that higher purpose is manifested, understood and shared by the people who join for you is important. It moves the needle and changes the conversation from “selling time” to “being a part of something great”. As pride is also about seeing the fruits of one’s efforts, appreciating personal results and the person’s role in achieving company goals is imperative.

If I had to summarise everything in just one sentence, it would be “you should not expect loyalty if you have nothing to offer that makes people proud”. And what would make them proud really depends on your specific situation, on what your competitors are doing, and on a myriad of other factors. For some, a strong mission is a strong enough foundation. For others, reputation and brand matter most. And even small things like the words of encouragement that you share with your colleagues can have some power. The most important thing here would be to listen to your people and try to understand what matters to them, not an outside consultant or recruitment agency.