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The changing face of employee loyalty

It could be seen as the level of engagement and commitment, instead of as a lifetime contract
Saturday, January 23, 2016 - 05:50
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Singapore

THERE'S an amusing sign on a colleague's desk that says: I work for money - if you want loyalty, get a dog.

While it is likely meant tongue-in-cheek, there may be some truth in the statement in today's context.

In the past, employees have the reassurance that if they stay with the same company for life, they will be rewarded for their allegiance. But in today's unpredictable business climate where layoffs are not uncommon, all bets are off.

This, however, does not mean that loyalty is dead. The concept is just changing.

Instead of treating loyalty as a lifetime contract, both staff and employers can think of it as the level of engagement and commitment that workers have to perform at their peak during their tenure, some specialists say.

"It is not simply determined by the length of time with an organisation, but also loyalty to your profession and about doing your best wherever you are and being passionate about what you do," says Pauline Chua, general manager, Human Capital and Corporate Social Responsibility at Fuji Xerox Singapore.

Think of it this way - would a company prefer to have a mediocre employee for life, or a star performer for a few years?

Of course, few workers want to switch jobs every other year. And likewise, companies may find it hard to function well if they have a high turnover rate and constantly needing to hire and train new workers.

"Most Singaporeans at heart do believe in job loyalty," said Lynne Roeder, managing director of Hays in Singapore. "The job for life mentality is long gone, but so too is the mindset of job hopping regularly."

Generation gap?

When it comes to company loyalty or lack thereof, it is often referred to as a problem with "Gen Y", or the Millennial Generation.

This likely stems from the different experiences the generations had that shaped their idea about job loyalty and commitment.

Ms Chua suggests that for baby boomers, it may not be so much about loyalty, but about survival in terms of sticking to an organisation.

In contrast, for Gen Y, the concept of a lifetime contract is outdated as they believe that the current working conditions are dynamic and that they must be ready to adapt to changes quickly.

According to the latest annual Millennial survey by Deloitte, 44 per cent of millennials say they expect to leave their current employers in the next two years. That figure increases to 66 per cent when the time frame is extended to 2020.

There seems to be one standout factor that impacts whether millennials stay or go: a company's purpose.

"Millennials place great importance on their organisation's purpose beyond financial success, remaining true to their values and opportunities for professional development," says Punit Renjen, Deloitte Global CEO.

With this in mind, it is more important than ever for companies to know what they stand for, and to communicate these values openly.

However, the needs of the younger generation don't seem to differ much from their older counterparts - it is found that millennials' loyalty to their organisations is strongly connected to leadership development and personal growth.

As Ms Chua sums it up, regardless of generation, it is ultimately about providing opportunities to employees that are not just interesting and challenging, but meaningful.

Not mutually exclusive

One common interpretation of loyalty indicates a kind of blind faith, where one party values the other at the expense of one's self.

However, employees can give their best to their companies and jobs, while growing and developing their careers as well.

Companies that focus on training and engaging staff will find that workers tend to be more productive and stay for a longer period of time.

According to Hays, it is up to employers to ensure they create the environment in which employees can remain.

"As long as staff are offered stimulating work and their career continues to advance, most will stay," says Ms Roeder of Hays. "A lack of career progression is the number one reason people come to us looking for their next job, so we can't emphasise enough the importance of putting career development plans in place."

In the end, it seems that employee loyalty is an active and dynamic relationship that is a two-way street.

Both employer and employee can stand to benefit if they put aside assumptions about the future and focus on the "now".

As Virgin Group founder and billionaire Richard Branson puts it: "Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don't want to."