The Two Main Ingredients for Loyalty in the Workplace

Loyalty in the Workplace

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Employers want their employees to stick around as long as possible, but what does it really take to keep them for the long haul? This article proposes that loyalty comes down to only two things.

Although most workers say they are satisfied with their current job, 45% say they are likely or very likely to look for a new one in the next year (SHRM, 2016). That’s a lot of costly turnover. While there will always be some job switching behavior, it’s fair to say that some companies fare better than others at retaining their employees.

Employers are often eager to lower headcount, slash benefits, and change or implement one-sided employment terms if it will save money. Employees have taken notice, and now see loyalty as a two-way street—one they are willing to walk away from when things are out of balance. The increase in independent contract employment (Princeton/Harvard, 2016) reflects an increasing desire to work on one’s own terms.

A lot has been published regarding the numerous ways to make employees “happy” or to promote “loyalty.” But we may be making things a little too complex. It’s possible that loyalty in the traditional sense is dead. And for the majority of people, happiness doesn’t come from our professional careers.

There’s a simpler way to look at retention issues that I’ve found useful. It comes down to two questions that can illuminate potential issues and serve as a litmus test for the strength of an employer/employee relationship:

  1. Is the relationship mutually beneficial?
  2. Am I treated with personal respect?

If you are an employee weighing a change, ask yourself these questions. If you are a manager, place yourself in the mindset of each of your team members and ask. Or, better yet, ask your employees directly.


Every job benefits the employee in some way, whether it’s the paycheck, social benefits, or intrinsic rewards. But mutual benefit often comes down to the notion of balance. Does the employee feel that they are adequately benefiting compared to the time, effort and quality of their work. Or does the company benefit in a lopsided fashion?

Consider this list of potential benefits to the employee. How does your organization stack up?

  • Financial
  • Social
  • Emotional
  • Achievement
  • Freedom

Everyone’s individual motivations and priorities are different. Employees should speak up and voice their priorities. And it’s also up to the manager to uncover individual motivations and help ensure proper balance.

To be fair, employers can also feel like the relationship is one-sided in the employee’s favor. This situation usually results in a change of employment terms, firing, layoff, or managing someone out of the organization.


An employer must create a culture of personal respect. But employees do not only weigh how they are personally treated. They also notice how the company treats others around them. It hurts them emotionally to witness others being treated poorly, and employees know it’s only a matter of time before they themselves are treated the same way.

Many companies still tolerate bullying, sexism, racism, favoritism and other forms of prejudice. We are often lulled into accepting these behaviors. We become so used to bad behavior that, over time, we no longer notice it.

Do the right thing. Eliminate disrespectful people and practices from your company. Neither employers nor employees should accept it.

There are also more subtle ways that employers (and employees) diminish personal respect in the workplace. Examples include:

  • Putting profits over people
  • Lack of recognition
  • Lack of trust or autonomy
  • Excessive hierarchy
  • Acting unethically or without integrity
  • Only doing what’s legally required instead of what’s right
  • Squashing voices of healthy disagreement

There should ultimately be a two-way street of respect. After all, the collective behavior of employees is what defines a company’s culture.


Those two simple questions again:

  1. Is the relationship mutually beneficial?
  2. Am I treated with personal respect?

If you are an employer wondering about your team, look in the mirror and reflect honestly. Set aside your ego and the instinct to be defensive. Start asking questions, then start making changes. No excuses.

What’s happening with you personally? If even one of the answers to the above two questions is “no,” it may be time to move on to other opportunities.

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