Business Should Spread the Love

Employers need to work harder at inspiring their workers’ loyalty, thus promoting continuity and reducing turnover. Pro or con?

Pro: Valuable Human Resources

Managers today often complain about a lack of employee loyalty, wondering why employees just don’t want to commit to staying in one workplace instead of always looking for their next gig.

But the fact is, many companies do little to inspire anyone to stay for longer than a few years. Between expecting workers to finish projects in their off hours, cutting benefits and perks solely to meet numbers, giving tiny salary increases, and using layoffs as a budgetary tool, companies are demanding more and more from their workers while giving them back less and less. Employees are feeling overwhelmed, alienated, and disposable. According to a 2007 Gallup poll, 77% of workers are dissatisfied with their jobs for these very reasons.

When employees feel alienated and disposable, it hurts the companies that employ them. People who’ve worked for many years at the same place have seen many projects come and go and acquired a vast amount of expertise regarding how the company really works and why it works that way. They can help bring new hires up to speed like no training class ever could.

Workers who feel appreciated and safe in their jobs are also free to get creative and do their best work rather than worry about a sudden layoff—and have to call recruiters during their breaks.

Do you, as a company, really want a workforce living in fear—and your most experienced and accomplished employees leaving with a wealth of knowledge that will take years to replace?

Con: New Employment Model

Once upon a time, a model employee was someone who stayed with the same company for decades, climbing through the ranks and building an entire career with just one or two employers.

But that was then. Today’s economy requires people with a wide array of skills, and the only way to get those skills is to work in many companies. This trend accounts in part for why the median job tenure fell from around seven years in 2000 to 4.1 years in 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employers aren’t mentors and caretakers anymore. They’re trainers and launch pads for ambitious and talented individuals. Rather than boasting about how many people spent their entire careers with you, you should boast about how many successful managers and executives started out in your offices.

And what exactly do we mean by employee loyalty? Managers can tell workers that the company is just one big happy family, but it’s highly unlikely those words would be seen as genuine. They probably won’t stop a valued employee from taking another offer at a salary the current employer just can’t afford to pay.

Whether we like it or not, the world has changed and with it, the relationship between employers and employees. To get the most out of their chosen professions, workers need the freedom to roam, experiment, and acquire new skills. And to get the most out of its employees, companies need to hire people with a diverse background. Trying to hold on to your workers for 10 or 20 years today actually does them a disservice. —G.F.

Opinions and conclusions expressed in the BusinessWeek.com Debate Room do not necessarily reflect the views of BusinessWeek, BusinessWeek.com, or The McGraw-Hill Companies.

Reader Comments

Japanes Employment Model

Japanese corporations triumphed using life-long employment. Their model does not include lay-offs. Continuous devotion to innovation made their products better than any others. This is the very reason that Wall Street run companies failed.

Chirag

I think the article hits the issue right on the nail. Corporations' loyalty lies toward their stockholders, and the bottom line rather then the employees. If corporate believes in free market, they should not be surprised to see employees who get better incentives leave. Without reciprocity, one would be a fool to stay loyal.

Alexandra

Some companies like the old IBM keep people doing the same dull work till the workers' brains rebel at learning new things. There is too much "containment," too many "security rules," too much status quo. This is also true of education, and most of America's industry.
We are making ourselves redundant; we are dying on the vine.

sue

Employers who treat their employees like potato chips can probably expect the employees to treat the company's production the same way. The success of the Japanese auto industry supports the view that loyal employees make better products.

Bag

The writer of "Con: New Employment Model" above makes it sound like you always have a better chance of gaining new skills by switching your job frequently (e.g., every 4 years). I don't think this is necessarily true. Just because you move from one company to another, doesn't mean you will build more skills. IMHO, it is the employee's attitude (which is often determined by their loyalty to the employer) toward his or her work that decides how much skill he or she obtains.

I know many people who constantly change jobs but are good at nothing (except, maybe, updating their resume). I also know other people that have worked in one company for a long time, but have all kinds of skills.

Viktor

Overworking in off-hours at the same salary makes bright and ambitious employees fly out to another job and the company becomes a swamp in which only losers can survive. Maybe piece-work is a way out. In Russia, I see such a thing.

Anthony

When you feel "overwhelmed, alienated, and disposable," you question the amount of effort you should to put into a firm. If the firm is not interested in your well being, why would you act otherwise? There is a big gap between doing merely what is asked of you and delivering top quality results.

A key component in forming a high performance team is trust. It's hard to form deep trust and reliance in your co-workers when there is constant turnover. Furthermore, if someone is elevated to a position simply because they hopped from job to job frequently, their lack of a foundation may hurt the team.

Motivation comes from within an individual, but management will certainly influence motivation either in a positive or negative manner.

J. Tjonggoro

Companies in Asia treat their employees as their own children--caring and loving in order to make employees strong in teamwork.

To keep employees staying longer is it difficult as a human being mostly wants to achieve more in career, income, etc. If they cannot achieve this target, they look for another job that can fulfill their ambitions.

It depends on the leader--how well he looks after them, e.g., by giving short management courses or scholarships, etc. With these efforts, I am sure the employee will think twice before moving to another company.

J. Tjonggoro

jinny

I think employees have the right to leave, and it's their choice to go to a better place to satisfy their needs.

David Y

Employers can do what they can to cultivate a caring and loving working environment, with a hope to continuously build and retain people. On the other hand, people who had decided to move on, for whatever the reasons, would still move on, but are likely to leave the caring and loving organization with a heart filled with gratitude and carry the testimony of the good experience to spread to family and friends forever. Organizations that uphold such values are becoming fewer, and ultimately values within an organization are imparted by the founder(s). So, if we want to see what values a company upholds, look at what the founder(s) uphold. "Who we are in the inside, is who we are on the outside" applies to everything.

Robert Laughing

Are fear and greed not working well enough?

Web Smith

Any manager with any sense knows that his workers are his most valuable asset. By taking care of and rewarding his employees, Henry Ford showed the world how to maximize production, quality, and safety. He rewarded good workers with raises, promotions, and training programs. He was also among the first to actively seek to employ the handicapped in positions that they could work at. People went to work everyday trying to repay Henry for what he did for them. He gave people a career, and pride was stamped on their paychecks. In this way, he built more cars better and faster than anyone else and he took the money that he made and reinvested it in the company and the people who worked for him. His was one of the very few companies to survive the Great Depression.

Then the banks and institutional investors got involved. Their only purpose is to make money. If they make money and a company succeeds in the process, that's great. If they make money and a company fails in the process, that's great. Knowing when to dump the stock and get out is the key. No CEO can survive without issuing healthy dividends. As a result, money that should go to R&D, technology upgrades, and employee training programs is redirected to already overflowing pockets. Instead of creating a work force that cares for the company through training programs and promotions, they are forced to lobby Congress and rape the world of its talent with more H-1B visas.

The Japanese learned about quality control from an American named Deming, and they learned their management style from Henry Ford.

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Strategery

The second paragraph of the pro section describes exactly what is wrong with businesses and the workplace in the U.S. If you treat your employees like an expense (especially if the CEO makes an outrageous salary), then your employees will consider your company nothing more than a paycheck and will only do the minimum required to keep their job. What kind of role models are executives, when they jump ship for a bigger salary or resign because of poor performance (with generous severance packages)? With the high turnover rates, our old-school ways of doing business need to evolve. Breaking the link between health insurance and employment is critical. Safety nets for workers between jobs need to be strengthened. Lenders should be required to treat employment in the same field, regardless of employer, as continuous employment.

Management as a profession

Its about time we made management a profession, with a code of ethics like we find in doctors, lawyers, etc. It's painful to see that in Indian IT companies we have more or less every software developer ending up as managers, thereby causing damage to the company, team, and themselves. What we have at the end of the day are a bunch of managers looking at numbers rather than leaders who have vision and foresight.

JRSmith

Workers are commodities. Workers know that they are commodities. Business can only survive if they have enough funds to cover expenses. From the CEO to the factory worker, everyone is replaceable.

People have a hard time loving each other. Business and love? Please, get real.

CarGerm

As an employee of one of the largest telecommunications companies in the world, I have say that reality for us is "Con: New Employment Model." Being represented by CWA (Communications Workers of America), we have salary and benefits closely kept in check with our working contract. The company doesn't want employees to stay around too long--that would bring top pay, more benefits, and higher cost to the company and consumer. In fact, our company has recently stopped hiring full-time employees and starting hiring 3-year term employees--no benefits, no 401k, bare bones employment, and after 3 years, you're out the door with not even a Swatch watch, much less a gold one. How's that for building company loyalty?

Mike

Yes, Japanese Employment Model, I've worked at a major Japanese company in the States, and all I saw was dead-wood old timers doing absolutely nothing and truly atrocious managers failing in one area and just getting promoted in another. All this because they were too senior to let go. There has to be a balance between a too-cozy keep-at-all-costs and a fire-at-first-sign-of-an-economic-downturn philosophy between employers and employees. Bottom line, if I know I won't get laid off, there is no incentive for me to do good work, or any at all. Conversely, if I know my job is never safe, then why should I kill myself working for this company?

Blur

I was at a company where I was plenty loyal. I went in on my own time to make things better for the company as I did enjoy my job. However, I got stuck on a project with someone who was totally incompetent and basically dropped the whole project on my shoulders. One day I vented to someone, and it got back to the other person and basically since I would rather work than worry about socializing, I basically got into trouble, and even though I was totally loyal I got axed. Basically a job has become nothing but politics, and that is why employees don't give a care. You have to worry about pissing off a favorite or who is doing who that you don't have time to do your job and the work you enjoy.

I honestly have been witness to clueless managers and those who think they deserve to be treated as gods because they give you a paycheck. I honestly have become less motivated about doing my job as I am under constant fear of being the one that does not fit in due to having different values such as taking pride in my work and not wanting to be treated as a disposable device when I make a mistake. It's no wonder that more and more of us are on anti-anxiety medications, and we jump from job to job more.

Bob

If the "new" business model is that we are free agents (no loyalty between companies and employees), why are so many companies still pushing the non-competition clauses on their employees, even in the case of layoffs? "We don't want you working for us, and we don't want you working for any one else either!"

Jayanth Paraki

Surely business houses have auditoriums. Why can't they screen some time tested movies like Fiddler on the Roof, Sound of Music, Dr Dolittle, etc.

Some messages of love may emerge, though I remain an eternal sceptic with respect to modern business conglomerates whose only aim is to make profits unlimited.

Beavis

Corporations are morons for the most part. They have killed consumers (their employees) with layoffs, small raises, horrible allocation of resources, and overpaying management. If companies want us to buy their crap, pay better wages. They move jobs overseas and expect U.S. consumers to buy more. Huh?

Steven

I love the comment about the Japanese model. Looking at other models on an international scale helps broaden the conversation. Especially one as successful as Japan.

Amanda

I have always felt strongly that if a person is always giving everything they have for a company, the company should give back. Of course, it seems in the "real world" that does not seem to happen. It's sad, but true that most of us feel the constant fear of losing our jobs when something goes wrong.

A Worker

JeusLand is an amazing brain-washed society. None of you dare use the word "worker." "Employee" is so much more humble. However, as the race to the bottom continues for employees, I noticed a drop in union bashing. Is it because all the unions have been bashed out of existence?

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