As workplace demographics shift, with boomers and generation-Xers increasingly leaving the work force and more millennials entering, the common belief is that employees are no longer loyal to their employers. Young people are regularly maligned for being self-absorbed and entitled; not willing to "pay their dues"; and impatient to get the promotions and compensation they feel they deserve. As a result, the unfortunate, widely held sentiment is they cannot be counted on to stick around for the long haul, nor ever be loyal to a company.
But this point of view is flawed. The millennial generation can be very dependable and reliable, but "loyalty" has a different meaning than it might have had 20 or even 10 years ago. Younger workers have grown up in a world where layoffs were common. They've seen their parents, aunts and uncles get terminated from companies with nary a nod to their years of service. So their frame of reference is different; they think of being tied to an organization in terms of months, not years.
Workplace loyalty is not dead. But if you're going to hire and retain a sustainable employee base, then your perception of loyalty may require a significant shift in mindset, if for no other reason than to maintain your sanity. Career employees are no longer dreaming of the day they retire with gold watches at the age of 65. Today's employees are thinking of themselves more as free agents in a sports franchise.
To successfully attract and keep employees in this new age of loyalty, you'll have to do two things. One, build a franchise in which players want to sign up for the season. And two, create a working environment that compels them to renew their contract repeatedly. What can you do to attract the best players and then keep them for repeat seasons? Here are three proven ideas.
Tedium is taboo. Today's reality is that most young workers have grown up in an environment in which they've been constantly occupied. With soccer camp, science club and saxophone lessons, there has been relatively little free time in which to get bored. Engage and excite your employees by changing things up. Modify responsibilities frequently, or rotate staff in assignments more often. Send them on work-related field trips such as visits to customers or to off-site locations. Provide abundant opportunities to learn. Make work fun.
Work-life balance is key. More and more, employees see work and play as simply two sides of the same coin. Whether it is shinny hockey on weekday evenings or the much-anticipated Bruno Mars concert, they're equally as important as the paying job. While this may sound completely irrational to some, it's worth remembering that the give-and-take goes both ways. If you extend flexibility to your staff whenever you can, they'll happily roll up their sleeves and willingly pitch in when a deadline is impending or a major company objective is at stake.
Give feedback often
Two-way dialogue is essential. Most new entrants to the work force have grown up in a highly connected environment, accustomed to receiving instantaneous feedback from parents, teachers and coaches. Besides, it is not a bad thing when employees want to know how they're doing; it means they want to improve and make a positive impact. So tell them. Frequently. In fact, a June, 2016, Gallup poll showed that employee engagement was highest for those who met with their manager at least once a week, or more often.
The new age of loyalty means that you can't assume that your employees will be with you forever; most of them won't. You'll do much better to take the "while we have them" outlook. Think of them as the really nice house guests whom you want to stay, but you know will eventually leave. Or if you're a parent, as the kids who will eventually grow up and move out of the house. Ironically, if you regard them in this light, they will probably stay longer than you expected. And who knows? Just like adult children who nowadays are often prone to moving back home, maybe your departing employees will return once again for an encore stint with your company.
Merge Gupta-Sunderji is a speaker and consultant on leadership, based in Calgary and Vancouver.