Employee Loyalty Is Not Dead

“Loyalty means leaving when you are no longer motivated,” writes Lee Caraher in her new book The Boomerang Principle. At the heart of Caraher’s quote is the new meaning of employee loyalty. It reflects a significant mindset shift for those of us who believed that loyalty was a one-way commitment. That one-way commitment centered on an employees’ gratitude toward their employer. This now outdated mindset went something like this: “You, employer, hired and trusted in me to do a good job; In return, I’ll work hard for you.” As such, the term “company man” took root and became a badge of honor.

Now in the 21st century, millennial bias has undermined our ability to understand the new nature of commitment for all employees. Without learning from all generations in the workplace, we rely on mental shortcuts that lead to unfair comparisons and shortsighted conclusions. The result is that managers and employees create barriers to understanding one another. Ultimately the business and its customers suffer. And the nature of the contract between employer and employee continues to deliver unrealistic expectations that are frustrating.

What Is Employee Loyalty Today? 

Caraher’s quote reveals the nature of loyalty today. This new view isn’t held solely by millennials, however; it’s a human perspective, fitting to all ages. This new loyalty has three elements to it.

First, we need to see employment as a two-way street. Certainly, there must be a commitment to the company’s growth. Each employee contributes to that growth based on his or her role and skills. Additionally, the organization makes a commitment to develop each employee while they are with the company. Leaders can demonstrate this commitment in simple ways:

  • Learning what sort of problems employees want to solve and helping them make a difference
  • Syncing business needs with individual development plans based on employees’ goals, values, and strengths
  • Sending employees to workshops, industry events
  • Pairing employees with mentors
  • Being available to coach employees

Next, the new employee loyalty isn’t determined by tenure. Instead, it’s based on the quality of that two-way relationship. What’s more, it’s not bound by employment. Caraher insightfully writes that when someone is “no longer engaged, productive, or happy” at work, “the most loyal act an employee can do is leave . . .”

From this perspective, employees take to heart the quality of their contribution and their satisfaction in delivering results. There’s both deep respect and a sense of ownership for results. When these wane, a loyal employee believes her work is done and it is time to move on. This is no different than a senior manager concluding that it’s time to leave because she has done what she was hired to do.

The new loyalty is not bound by employment. When employees have a positive experience working for you, they become advocates of your company even after they leave. They refer friends to apply for open positions. They speak positively about you online using social media and sites like Glassdoor. This is the greatest compliment you can get.

Finally, the ultimate reciprocal act of loyalty from an employer is the re-hiring employees who have left. Returning to Caraher’s book, she calls this strategic practice The Boomerang Principle. The principle is simple: Employees who leave and want to come back often develop new skills from different experiences. They also return with fresh perspectives that can be mutually beneficial.

Loyalty has evolved. It is earned by leaders and organizations who create an environment conducive to learning and progress. It is earned by employees who actively apply and grow their talents. Both are stewards of the resources entrusted to them. Ultimately, this new loyalty is earned when there are mutual admiration and respect.

This post was originally published in Inc.