I’ve read a number of articles online recently on the topic of loyalty. A friend of mine suggested that it might make a good topic for this blog, so I did a bit of research on the subject. What I found was not surprising.
According to many, there is no such thing, simply no room for loyalty in a modern corporation. Workers are told that they should be loyal only to themselves, and not to expect any loyalty in return from their employer. Focus on what you can get and move on as soon as something better comes along.
I would argue that that this is not the case, and that loyalty is really not as dead and gone as many would want us to believe. However, I do think that where that loyalty is placed is not the same as it might have been a few years ago.
I’ve been in a management role for almost 30 years. Over that time it’s become very clear to me that the corporate HR department does not truly have the best interests of the employee at heart. The policies that they put in place are to protect the company from legal action; any protection that the employee gains as a result are simply a side effect. That’s not to say that HR is cold-hearted or deliberately unkind, it’s simply that when working with them keep in mind that there may be a difference in priorities.
If you’ve spent any time at all in a big company, it also quickly becomes apparent that there is an unhealthy focus on headcount, and if you happen to be in a support organization it is not uncommon for senior management to see that as a large ‘well’ of headcount; and it always seems to be at the top of their list for staff reductions. Again, I don’t believe this is due to any specfiic malice; more often it is simply a lack of understanding of what the support organization does.
Unfortunately, this focus often sends the message to our staff that ‘the company’ doesn’t really care about them. This puts us in the middle between senior leadership’s goals and employee loyalty. As managers, we do have a responsibility to our employer to help them meet their strategic goals, even if we may not always personally agree with them. We have to do our best to communicate to our leadership the importance of our teams role and how they fit into the overall strategic goals. It means we must be realistic as well; for example, if there has been significant efforts to reduce employee effort by instituting automation we must be fiscally responsible to our employer and recognize that we may need to examine our staffing levels.
On the other hand, as managers of staff we also have a responsiblity to our team. And this is where loyalty kicks in – while our team may not feel any particular loyalty to the company, if we’ve done our job they are verly likely to have loyalty to their team and manager.
What does ‘doing our job’ in this case actually mean? Well, we need to be honest with our staff about their long-term prospects. Clear communication about the strategic goals of the company is very important because our staff needs to be aware of what the future holds. Don’t minimize the impact of the strategic direction of the business; if there are changes that could impact staffing levels don’t hide this fact from your team. Be up-front about it; help them understand the potential career ramifications of changes to the industry like virtualization, automation, or offshoring. Have regular discussion with them about what they’d like to do and be clear about having their best interests in mind.
If you are honest and up-front about things with your staff I believe you’ll find that they will develop a great team dynamic and trust in you as their manager. While they may never develop any long-term loyalty to the company, they will develop loyalty to their team. And it will result in less stress for you as their manager as well.
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