Monday, August 3, 2009

Has Workplace Loyalty Gone to the Dogs?

Loyalty in the workplace isn't something you hear much about these days. Employees are bruised and battered (at least psychologically and financially) by companies who have sacked them, forced them to take unpaid leave and slashed pensions and medical benefits. It's no wonder that workers may contend that the only loyalty in their lives right now comes from the family dog.

That's why I was interested when I heard that we may actually NEED loyalty in the workplace in order to be happy. Here's the story I did on the subject for my Gannett column:

If you’re miserable at work these days, don’t blame your employer. Blame your lack of loyalty.

“After all these layoffs, people like to say that they’re loyal to themselves, not an employer,” says Timothy Keiningham. “But the problem with that is that it’s not a virtue to be loyal to yourself.”

Keiningham, a loyalty guru, says that unless you have a sense of loyalty to the people you work with and what you’re doing then you are likely to be unhappy, no matter how much you’re getting paid.

Further, this lack of loyalty begins to seep into other parts of our life – we may see it start to adversely impact our personal relationships, our communities and even our governments.

The problem, he says, is that right now worker loyalty is dropping – little surprise with unemployment expected to reach 10 percent and the exposure of outrageous executive compensation packages. But that declining loyalty has led to some real bottom-line consequences for companies: According to a loyalty survey by Leadership IQ late last year, 74 percent of those who “survived” a layoff said their productivity had dropped, with 64 percent saying that co-worker productivity had also declined.

So, at a time when companies need workers to be their most focused and their most productive, they instead are confronting a cynical labor force that is less inclined than ever to give them their full effort. Right now, Keiningham says that less than 30 percent of U.S. employees say they are loyal to their company.

“When you’re not loyal to your employer, you’re more just like a hostage,” he says. “Employees who are not loyal are thinking about when they can leave. They’re not improving their productivity. They’re not giving an employer their best, most innovative ideas – because when they leave, they plan on taking those ideas with them.”

In his book with Lerzan Aksoy, “Why Loyalty Matters,” (Benbella, $24.95), Keiningham says that loyalty has not just recently taken a hit with the latest recession – workers and companies have been at odds for a long time when it comes to creating good relationships that breed loyalty among managers and among co-workers.

For example, the authors use the example of former Scott Paper CEO Al Dunlap’s conversation with an employee who told Dunlap he had worked for the company for 30 years. Dunlap’s response: “Why would you stay with a company for 30 years?”

Those kind of management blunders continue today, Keiningham says.

“Mangers right now need to be upfront about how much it hurts to lay people off,” he says. “They need to explain why things are happening. They need to share the credit religiously with the people that are there. They need to take 20 seconds and specifically thank someone for what they’re doing. We must understand that this lack of loyalty is our own fault.”

At the same time, Aksoy says workers need to see how their own behavior impacts their loyalty – and their happiness on the job. Right now, fewer than 1 in 20 workers invests time in others at work.

Aksoy says that studies show that people often believe they are more loyal to colleagues at work, than those co-workers are to them. “Basically, people are always putting the blame on others,” she says. “Individuals need to do a self-assessment and determine their level of loyalty. How are they really connecting? What is their relationship DNA?”

In the book, the authors outline this relationship DNA by looking at various “styles” such as someone who is high in empathy. In that case, this person may win the “admiration and affection” of others, but such a nature also may be a burden to them and make them “feel that others inadvertently take advantage… by consistently seeking” advice and help.

“While there will be others who possess relationship style that’s similar to ours, no one is exactly like us. In fact, we are able to build strong, loyal relationships with one another precisely because each of us is different. It is our differences that allow us to enrich one another’s lives,” the authors say.

Notes Keiningham: “Loyalty is a lot like love. When you get jilted, you can’t just give up.”

Do you think workers will become loyal to their employers again?

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