What Happened to Loyalty?

Published on: March 28, 2011

Filled Under: Employment Applications, Interviewing Skills, Job Search Skills, Networking, Resume Help, Uncategorized

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Inspiring allegiance and dedication in your workforce

 by Scott Gunderson, Business & Management Department Chair

Dakota County Technical College

 As you know, Brett Favre finally decided to retire from the Minnesota Vikings—much to the chagrin of Green Bay Packer fans, me included. Some of us  remember Brett signing with the team in the 90s and how he said—and I quote, “I will retire as a Green Bay Packer.”

 I recall saying to myself, “Now that’s loyalty!”  We are in an age of free agents and transitional workforces, but you can still ask yourself why Brett apparently stabbed Packer fans in the back? It’s simple: He was loyal to himself and his own goals—not because of the money, but because he had a passion for football.

 Looking closer, we can wonder if Brett was the one who turned his back on Packer fans, or was Packer leadership simply peering into the future without seeing No. 4 anywhere on the horizon?

 Here’s my point. Many employers inadvertently cultivate disloyalty and disengagement in their employees, fueling bad attitudes and poor performance. This negative approach often drives good employees—the star performers and rainmakers—to leave the company because they don’t see a management structure that understands that contributing to employee success naturally promotes organizational success. In other words, you have to give a little to get a little.

 In my previous life as an operations manager, I had a good many supervisors. I remember one day when one of those supervisors refused to give an employee the day off because no one else was available to fill the shift. The employee came to me and complained about what he saw as a raw deal.

 After researching the situation, I found that the employee worked more voluntary overtime than anyone else in the company. This employee was consistently stepping up for the company and coming through in the clutch.  So how did we reward him? We denied him the day off.

 If I stood by and did nothing, I felt that the employee might just call in “sick,” leaving us in a worse predicament than if we had granted the day off in the first place. I also thought that the employee would most likely discontinue volunteering for overtime in the future. 

I’m guessing that you have encountered similar situations. The good news in this story is that the employee got the day off after all, and our supervisory staff learned a valuable lesson—you have to give a little to get a little.

 Too often, especially in a harsh economy, we can take the easy route and only look out for ourselves. This downturn will eventually turn around, but if we undervalue our employees and fail to show them the loyalty they deserve, we will find that it’s very difficult to turn them around. 

 One learning point the downturn has brought to light is that we have become a spoiled society. We constantly think, ME! ME! ME!—quite often at the expense of other people. The anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks just passed, causing me to remember how we came together as a country. For some companies, the current hard times are taking a terrible toll. Are we coming together as we did in the aftermath of 9/11, or are we just looking out for ourselves?

 I’m not advocating that a company go bankrupt because its leadership won’t make the tough decisions needed to ensure the organization’s survival. I am saying that we have more ways to weather this storm than just coming down hard on our employees, which could ultimately capsize a company just as effectively as a poor economy. 

 How can you tell if you have a culture of loyalty in your business? Watch what happens when your ship, i.e., your company, starts taking on water. Are your employees bailing out on the next available lifeboat, or are they busy bailing water to keep your ship afloat?

 At DCTC, we are seeing workers with 20 and 30 years of experience who are jobless even though their companies are still in existence. I am a proponent of the idea that seniority does not guarantee a job, results do. Having said that, what motivates a company to let good, experienced employees go? Some would say that those workers cost the most to keep on, but I contend that such an approach is shortsighted.

 Folks who stay with an organization for 20 and 30 years are the Baby Boomers who believe strongly in loyalty. They gave their best effort as a rule and took on extra shifts to help when needed. If we let them go and the economy rebounds as it surely will, how will we replace that lost knowledge, experience and loyalty? 

 What follow are some recommendations that employers should consider:

  1. Trust your employees first—and they will trust you. If you think providing tuition reimbursement will prompt an employee to leave for another job, what does that say about your approach to loyalty?
  2. Involve your employees in decisions that may affect staffing decisions. I have talked with many dislocated people who said they would have worked for short periods without pay to save their jobs.
  3. Meet your employees halfway. Remember that even though they work for you, your employees want to know their company is working to protect them. Where would any business be without loyal employees? More to the point, where do businesses end up that are not loyal to their employees?
  4. When an employee makes an honest mistake, even a costly mistake, ask yourself if you contributed to the mistake by not providing proper training or support.
  5.  Challenge employees and keep them engaged. Let them know the truth about the challenges the company is going through.  You may be surprised that they may have the ideas you are looking for.

 I have always trusted first and take people at their word. It’s up to them to cause me to think otherwise. Of course, I have been burned on more than one occasion, and maybe Brett Favre is a good example. But I’m thinking that I might just have the last laugh, because selfishness has no part in my life, any company or on the field—or, in my case now, in the classroom.

 Maybe I’m old school, or cut from a different mold. I do know that I’m an idealist. I believe that selfless behavior breeds selfless behavior. Selfish behavior breeds selfish behavior.

 If you would like to challenge my views, or would like answers to questions about the DCTC Business, Management for Technical Professionals and Supervisory Management or Individualized Studies programs, please contact me at scott.gunderson@dctc.edu.  

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