It’s been proposed that employee loyalty is a thing of the past. Gone are the days when employees started and ended their careers with the same employer. And often the blame for this is placed on the employees themselves. Some say it’s a generational difference; others attribute it to the pipe dream of work-life balance. Yet, loyalty is a two-way street. Employees give their loyalty to an employer not for nothing, but in exchange for something. Allegiance, support, and faithfulness have to be earned. And it’s earned by businesses and organizations making the right choices—choices that protect and provide for their employees.
But what happens when a company’s ability to protect and provide comes into question? During times of change, employees are often faced with fear and uncertainty. And, if not properly handled, a business can lose its workforce’s loyalty at the time it needs it the most. However, an organization that successfully navigates change and takes care of its employees through the process can actually come out the other side with a stronger team and employee loyalty fully intact.
Consider the Human Mind
Changes in the workplace are some of the biggest stressors working professionals face. A major shift at work can cause employees to feel like their livelihood is on the line, and that can push people into survival mode. For an employer to successfully navigate this mindset in workers, a basic understanding of human psychology is beneficial.
Maslow’s hierarchy is a well-known, established psychological theory that explains the levels of motivation that humans walk through as their needs are met. Going from basic to complex, the five levels are: physical needs, safety, love and belongingness, esteem needs, and self-actualization. While any business leader would do well to understand this theory in more detail, the bottom line for employers in the midst of change is that employees’ needs have to be met in a certain order. Simply put, don’t hold morale-building, feel-good work lunches or give out performance awards if you haven’t addressed their fears regarding job security and a regular income.
Addressing employees’ fears starts with communicating. It sounds basic – it’s probably been drilled into your head to the point of monotony—but communication is what will make or break loyalty in difficult times. When the change first happens, or even before if you’re afforded that foresight, a business’ first priority should be to uniformly get the message out. Then, from that point forward, communication should be consistent and regular. It’s almost impossible to communicate too much.
Employees need to hear firsthand what’s happening and why it’s happening. Vague answers will only stir up more worry, so give as much information as you possibly can. Explain in detail what current leadership is doing to address the change and the thought process that brought about those decisions. Keep employees fully informed of what changes are ahead, and give specifics on changes that will directly impact employees. Lack of information breeds uncertainty, and more uncertainty is only going to tear down any loyalty that is still in place.
Don’t Forget To Listen
At the same time, ensure you’re keeping the lines of communication open by also listening to your employees. Now, more than ever, your employees will want and need to be heard. But don’t assume they’ll naturally go talk to leadership on their own. The stress, fear, and uncertainty caused by change in the workplace can hinder employees from reaching out, which means company leaders need to create an environment that fosters openness and transparency.
Schedule forums and open meetings for employees to ask questions and share concerns. Provide anonymous means of communication, such as question boxes, to allow those who are more timid to express their worries without fear of backlash. Create and maintain an open-door policy at all leadership levels, from middle management all the way up to the executive suite. Employees will quickly appreciate your sincere desire to listen to them, just make sure you’re putting what you’ve learned to good use. As often as possible, act on what employees are telling you.
Loyalty, allegiance, and belonging are all things that most individuals, including employees, desire. But businesses have to hold up their end of the bargain, especially during difficult circumstances and times of change. Recognizing employees’ basic needs during times of stress, communicating and listening are what workers require from their employers in order to build and maintain that bond of loyalty. And it’s that same bond that could be the determining factor in how quickly and how well the organization moves past its circumstances.
What are your thoughts on employee loyalty in today’s business world? Have you had a personal experience with a company that handled change well and successfully built employee loyalty in the process? Share your stories and thoughts in the comments section below.