Do We Remember How To Be Loyal?


The call of the next big adventure can be almost irresistible. As our world shrinks it becomes increasingly easy to see ourselves in different settings. Even if we choose not to wander far from the land we grew up in, we can still tackle a wide array of changes that our parents might not have contemplated.  Or maybe that’s just me. My family has spread out across the globe, all leaving that small warm island in the Caribbean to see what adventures they can find in colder climates. At this point, going to Barbados is the adventure because home is now Canada, The United States, The United kingdom etc..

I was looking at a breakdown of staff time within my organization. Those people who had spent twenty-five or more years in the organization right down to those who had just signed on. The 20 plus category fascinated me. Most people don’t join an organization these days with the expectation that they will still be there on their retirement. I wondered why? Was it the siren call of adventure? Is curiosity so profound that we simply can’t resist the allure of the next thing or is it more that we have no reason to stay? 

Loyalty is a concept that I most commonly associate with small plastic cards and the collection of points. I’m not shallow. How often do we hear about loyalty in any other context?  I don’t think I am being disloyal when I try a new shampoo or when I shop in a new store, yet they frequently offer me loyalty points or bonuses if I stick with them. When was the last time employers did that on a regular basis?  Generally you get a signing bonus, not a staying bonus. In effect, we have moved to a process of rewarding employees for leaving.

I realize that there are sophisticated organizations that spend time and energy on retention. Those organizations that have done the number crunching and realize it is cheaper to keep an employee than it is to replace one, but there are not many of them. Most employers are content if they can get three years from an employee and plan accordingly.  My question is, why? Why does that make more sense then looking for ways to keep employees in the fold? Have we all simply assumed that that’s the way people prefer things? That the next adventure is so appealing that there is little we can do to resist it’s allure.

I’ll admit, I like change. It’s fun to start something new and to explore new ground.  It’s good to switch things up a little, but I also like stability. I have been married for 18 years without feeling the need to switch things up. I expect to be married for at least 18 more years. An interesting thing about that, my husband has a small shop in a challenging  sector and yet he has  employees who have been with him about as long as we’ve been married. Could it be that he understands something about loyalty?

Loyalty isn’t about points collected. I’m not going to buy the same crappy brand of anything just to get points. If the product doesn’t do the job, then I’m not going to stick with it. I stick with a brand because I expect it to perform as promised. I expect consistency. My favorite shampoo is not going to smell like oranges today and coconut tomorrow. It will perform to my expectations and in return I will continue to buy it.  As other products come out from that brand I’ll be more inclined to try them because the brand has earned my trust. Seems reasonable.

If our expectations are that high for a shampoo or a toothpaste, what should they be for a job? If a job doesn’t give back as much as it takes, if an employer doesn’t do the work required to make an employee want get up and go to work in the morning, then would they keep going? What about the employee? If the employer is consistent, if they deliver on their promise, shouldn’t the employee remain dedicated? Loyalty is built over time.  It comes from trust and expectations met.  Do we have shorter times in our jobs today because we have forgotten what it means to be loyal or do we simply no longer apply that thinking to work?

What do you think? Do employees need to be more loyal to employers?  Do employers need to work harder at keeping employees engaged? Is loyalty associated with work an old fashioned idea?

Photo Credit: “Girl and Dog” by Vlado from Free Digital


40 responses to “Do We Remember How To Be Loyal?

  • Hi; I think that the problem of loyalty started in the mid 80’s when economic conditions caused some long established companies to have their first serious layoffs. People who had worked for the same company that their father had no longer felt that they could trust their employers to make good decisions and perpetuate the businesses and industries they had come to depend upon. Since then many of the newer businesses just didn’t grow up in the era of company loyalty to their employees or by them. and every recession and other economic setback just brings on less and less trust. Back when my family still owned a small carnival we had employees or families of them who had worked for my dad and continued to work for me and my brother. We had one employee buried on the property we owned in south texas. But now days with carnivals growing up and ride line ups expanding and increasing in value most shows get at least some part of their work force from outside the u s. And the amusement industry isn’t the only one doing such outsourcing. So, people will continue to expect turnover accept from those few enlightened companies that develop and retain their empoyees through constant investment in them. thanks for the post, max

    • Thanks for bringing some great perspective Maxwell. I also think a lot of our attitude about how long we are in jobs is a reflection of how long we think we should be in positions and how long employers expect people to stay.

  • Loyalty is a touchy subject because sometimes the people you are loyal to are not always deserving. I think this applies more to a personal than a professional perspective though, for me.

    For businesses and employees, I think loyalty is huge. Sometimes people just need a gentle reminder of what’s REALLY important…

  • I have loyalty to few brands of products. I love to use the loyalty points too. When it comes to employment, employers are reluctant to give loyalty points. I believe that must be changed and experience should be counted as very valuable and rewarded. Doreen tells the story of hiring 4 hads for the same price as 2. Question is will it still be savings, when the 4 hands to be trained.
    Each new face needed to be trained, familiarised and trusted again. Wouldn’t it be better to spend that time and money in marketing or being more productive?

    • Bindhurani there is lots of research to support your comment. Losing employees costs organizations money, if not in the replacement process, then in lost productivity. I think Doreen’s employers were being short-sighted if they thought a simple “two for one” would be beneficial.

  • I think overall, younger workers have never lived in culture where it was “normal” for people who did a good job to stay employed by the same employer for all or most of their careers. At my law firm, we had a conundrum about filling the legal assistant level position. Should we hire less skilled people who were not likely to be able to develop the skills to perform at a superior level or should we hire bright college grads who clearly were probably going to leave after a year or two to attend college. What we learned was—-there is no good answer. The college grads all left either for law school or some other profession (having learned that they hated working in a law firm). Very few of the other hires stayed because the job was too hard or their lives were too chaotic for them to work regularly or we had to let them go because their job performance was substandard. If they were very good, even if we promoted them, they would leave for more money at a bigger firm. At first we felt betrayed that people in whom we had invested so much time and attention would leave, but we learned not to take it personally. It’s just the way it is.

    • What I find interesting is that while I can certainly understand the many reasons why people would leave jobs, it sometimes seems as if they are leaving them for no reason at all other than they think they are supposed to. Having said that, I have seen people stay when they clearly needed to leave.

  • I was in Human Resources for several years before staying home with my kids and this was a concept we agonized over. I think my answer is that it goes both ways. Without your shampoo staying true to its promises, you would not be loyal to it. When a company does not put its employees high on the list of important things, there is no reason for an employee to be loyal. It’s not about the money as much as the relationship, I think. Insightful article.

  • Loyalty is there when there is trust and respect for each other. Over the course of my 35 year career in the corporate world (not all at the same company), I witnessed a change in the overall climate with companies showing less and less respect for their employees. If loyalty is blind and someone is staying in a job only because there are no other options or out of fear, then I think the loss of loyalty may be a good thing. I recall some workplaces where there was a family feeling in the company, with mutual trust and respect, where employees felt valued, creating a powerful positive work environment. Loyalty needs to be earned.

  • Loyalty is indeed rare, and that’s a shame because when employers and employees show loyalty toward one another they will in turn feel valued. Of the many reasons whey I left teaching, lack of loyalty was right up there, especially when reasons were found to fire a couple of teachers with 20+ years experience so they could be replaced with younger, cheaper recruits. Talk about a lack of loyalty…

    • I think it’s a shame too because loyalty is something you want embedded in culture. Given the amount of time most people spend at work, it seems like a pretty significant chunk of our lives to have loyalty missing from.

  • I’m going to say yes to all three. As an ex-Corporate person (over 20 years), I worked for one company for 13 of those years and only left because I was recruited away for a higher paying job and more responsibility. I was sad when I left my “family” there, but need and wanted to make more money. Now, 13 years later, having been an entrepreneur for that long, I could not imagine going back into the Corporate environment. I do believe if my company would have met the new salary and promoted me, I would still be there, though. I love the culture and had lots of friends. Loyalty was not really questioned, though. I am naturally loyal, being a Virgo. You raise a very interesting point, though. I am curious as to what my freshman in college will do for a job when she graduates. The environment and values have changed so much!

    • Laurie you make a great point. You can be loyal and still head out to another organization. There are times when the opportunities simply don’t exist inside the organization and employees need to move on if they want to pursue those options. I also think that cultures and people change, making them no longer a good fit. They can still like each other, but not want to work together.

  • Debra: Unfortunately, I think it’s come down to a mater of dollars & cents. My employer was quite happy to give me a severance package and say “Hasta la Vista” b/c they could hire 2 junior people for what I was being paid. They didn’t value my loyalty after 18 years. It was simply a matter of economics: 4 hands for the price of 2. Where do my loyalties lie? With people and companies who appreciate me. Simple as that.

    • Doreen the math there only makes sense if you assume two juniors is the equivalent to a senior. I’m not naive enough to believe that the bottom line isn’t important, but there are so many factors that contribute to that bottom line that I have to ask if the right math was being done.

  • Debra — I’m passionate about employee engagement and giving people reasons why they should stay instead of leave. I love your point about “get a signing bonus, not a staying bonus.” With a tight economy some companies don’t feel they need to nourish their employees who will take a lot of abuse to keep their jobs. But when the economy gets better, these employees will look for jobs in other companies and their employers will wonder why. I don’t think loyalty is an old-fashioned idea. Being loyal to your company, your friends and your family is a core value. I have enduring friendships because there is mutual respect and loyalty. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case in the business world anymore.

    • Absolutely Jeanette. It seems many companies are taking this approach right now. They want to squeeze everything they can out of their employees because there isn’t job competition. If one leaves there are at least three more looking to fill that spot. Why bother to treat the people working for you as human beings?

      It seems the thoughts of money saved by retention are counter balanced with money saved through cheaper new labor.

    • It’s sad really and such a waste. In a small company where roles can be more fixed I can see someone leaving because they want to learn new skill-sets or take on additional responsibility, but in large organizations there should be more opportunity to grow, but you’d have to feel nurtured.

      I have to keep asking myself, where is the client in this discussion. If employees are feeling used or resentful about their employer, does any of that make it to clients?

  • jbutler1914 says:
    January 14, 2014 @ 04:59 pm

    From my experience loyalty and jobs are a thing of the past. Most companies want to make more money and pay out less. I’m also a fan of change. Once something becomes boring or stale I’m looking for a change.

    • I wonder if the fact that we have more people living in cities contributes to turn over. The ability to switch jobs has got to be considerably reduced in small towns where there are less job opportunities.

  • I see loyalty to a company/product as a relationship that needs to maintain a healthy balance. Both need to participate in the relationship, equally, to make it a healthy environment to work in. I think that has been lost over time on both sides. As an executive, hiring and rehiring was expensive from not only the training cost but consistent customer service and retention. In some cases it the unrealistic expectation from an employee (or an employer) as to what they should expect from the relationship. In many cases there is very little give and take, and a mutual understanding that it’s a partnership. Just like a product that doesn’t as expected or promised, the relationship is broken and it’s almost impossible to get back. So we leave the company or stop using the product. I’m not sure what the answer is at times, but I do believe we need to seek out the answer.

  • This is a very interesting post. Our grandparents and parents stayed in careers from school through retirement. When people first started moving from job to job it was thought that income was the driving force. A new company…possibly a start-up…would lure a valued employee by way of pay and benefits. But then, There was also “new blood” to consider. A person that added new ideas/concepts to a company whose ideas had grown stale simply because there had been no infusion of new blood. This rang true to me as I had witnessed a new dynamo move into a company and applied new ideas from an entirely different industry that resulted in great growth. But it seems to me that a company could do both…by offering education and a financial reason to stay.

    • Jacqueline, that is a interesting thought. The idea that the lack of turnover can lead to stagnation is a very real concern in a board, so why wouldn’t it also be true of staff? As with anything worth having, doing the hard work to get the balance right between new and experienced is worth the effort.

  • When he retired, my father had spent 37 years at the same company; in the same time span, I have worked at a dozen different organizations. The longest I stayed was nine years and the shortest, seven months. That is the norm today and will likely be reinforced by the short attention span and sense of entitlement often demonstrated by today’s Generation Y. Not only do employers rarely show a desire to keep their employees, most people (including myself) express horror when hearing of someone who has stayed in the same place for 20 years.

    • Wow, horror at the idea of staying in the same place for 20 years. Louise what is it that makes staying put so hard? Are businesses so slow moving that they simply can’t keep the level of challenge where you need it?

  • The last restaurant I worked at switched their mentality. The owning group started as a fmaily style mentality. My restaurant had good employee retention (I worked there a little over 5years). But during the last few years I was there they switched their focus. They became more corporate minded. Turn over became restauant norm with low pay and little support from the home office. Employees were treated like commodities i stead of an important part of the process.

    When I left I was the last cook to leave from the group who was there when I started. The entire kitchen had changed over including people who had been there for close to 10 years.

    How a place treats those working for them goes a long way to retention. Pay helps but it won’t be the thing that keeps someone there.

    • Jon, I have a hard time understanding why becoming more efficient in any enterprise is regularly equated with becoming less appealing to employees. I think leaders have a choice. They can be more efficient with or without staff cooperation. By working with staff they will get what they need and probably more. Without collaboration they just shift the cost centre to other areas, like recruitment or loss of clients. No matter how good you are at getting more staff in the door to replace the old, your clients will pay the cost of poorer service and good luck getting clients to be loyal if your service is poor.

  • Loyalty! Retention of good employees! I’m all for this.

    Twice in the past I offered to head up an employee retention program. One was at a company I worked for, a for-profit counseling call center (unusual, I know). The other was a non-profit church camp that had a lot of trouble finding enough volunteer counselors (
    I’d been a volunteer counselor several times). I liked both these places a lot, and wanted to help them retain people.

    But in both cases, I got turned down on my idea of an employee retention program, after thoughtful conversations with the people in charge. I felt sad, even shut-down, after they declined. What I perceive now is that they were afraid of change, or more specifically, of losing control. I think that an emphasis on retaining employees (or volunteer counselors) would have shifted emphasis away from whatever their current agendas were. They would have had to pay more attention to the experience of the employees/volunteers.

    Still, it seems strange to me that these organizations, and evidently many others, don’t see how much they could benefit from a workplace of deeply experienced, long-time employees who really want to be there, contributing to their organization. It takes long-range thinking, not just short-term thinking, similar to how disaster preparedness takes some long-range thinking (my latest post, if anyone would like to come over and visit :))

    Thanks for a good topic, Debra.

    • That’s so sad Alison and frustrating. I have watched organizations go to great lengths to build retention programs and then seen those same programs be among the first things cut when money got tight. I always wonder if in the long run its really a cost savings or simply a short turn gain and long term lost.

  • Debra, loyalty is rare nowadays in all areas of life, especially in the West. We have developed a society where everything is disposable. In the developing world howver, loyalty is still valued, practiced and important and they help each other.

    When I lived in Kuwait the owner of the company I worked for suddenlyand unexpectedly passed away. His family decided to close down the company and the entire staff was given notice.

    There was one Indian guy at a lower level that I was worried would not get a new job. So I offered to write a letter of recommendation for him. He explained to me that it wasn’t necessary because the other Indians in Kuwait would make sure he got a new job. Personally am of the opinion that it would benefit the West if people helped each other out that way.

    • Sad but true Catarina. I do think that we see loyalty as not having value, as somehow being an old fashioned notion. I love the idea of the community getting behind the individual you mentioned, we should all be so fortunate to belong to that kind of supportive group. Why we wouldn’t all seek that kind of security by giving and building loyalty is a mystery.

  • I never knew you were born in Barbados, Debra – i have always thought it is cool and like all-year-holiday to live in that part of the world. It’s silly – i know; just a fantasy i have 🙂

    As for the loyalty – you are right people used to work longer (and some forever) in the same company while right now, it’s a custom to change jobs every 2-3 years. As if you are reaching your limit in the company within that period.

    I can see both sides. Yes, if i am on the same job full time 3 years, unless i am event manager (and maybe even then!) – i would be pretty bored as it gets repetitive. On the other hand, if my employer values me and wants to keep me – maybe they can change my title and/or move me to another department every 3 years or so. This way i get engaged – as i do new and interesting thins; and they are happy as i stay within the company.

    I think it isn’t that hard to build employee’s loyalty – all you have to do is care about them and have a good internal communications, of course. The employee will be loyal only if they feel the company’s success is their success, too and vise verse.

    • It’s interesting, I typically stay in a job for five years, but I’d be content to stay longer if the position has the right elements. I do like a very dynamic setting where I get to learn new things. I also need to care about the focus of the organization and know that the work is meaningful. Of course I have to like my colleagues and have the right resources…etc., etc.

      There are so many things involved in building loyalty that it’s not surprising organizations can’t get it right…that is presuming they even try. From the employee side, if work is what you do to pay bills and that’s all, its hard to generate feelings of loyalty. There are so many pieces involved.

  • I tend to be loyal to certain brands that have proven to be very good.
    I like to experiment with recipes, plants and finding new restaurants.
    I love to travel to new locations but often go back to favourite spots.
    As to work, I changed not only companies but careers.
    We have more choices now, in jobs, products and places to live and visit.
    Some people stay with the same company, not always out of loyalty but from fear of the unknown .
    I do believe smaller companies will evoke stronger ties because of the closer knit between employer and employee. There is also a chance for greater involvement in the final product or service which can enhance pride for a job well done. The reverse is also true, a poor boss or an embarrassing product/service would hasten departure!
    Were I see real loyalty today is in relationships with loved ones, family and friends.

    • You make a great point Simone, I do think people often stay put out of fear. I know someone who felt like every day she spent at work was Hell but stayed in the same unhappy position for more than ten years.

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