HR MANAGEMENT The Death of Loyalty – And 10 steps to winning it back

Employee loyalty is key to business success. Leaders know that more loyalty equates to more satisfaction, motivation, productivity, tenure of employment and the ability to attract the best of the best. The loyalty of the baby boomer generation is particularly important to have, comprising as it does the majority of the existing intellectual capital and experience in the workforce.
It’s been suggested that baby boomers are inherently more inclined to be loyal to employers than their more individualistic and mercenary successors of generations X and Y. Whether that was ever true or simply corporate wishful assumption, this belief can, it seems, now be laid to rest.
Loyalty, motivation and satisfaction surveys carried out in New Zealand and globally show that disgruntled, disloyal employees pepper all generations. In fact, boomers frequently rate their managers even lower than their younger counterparts do, to the extent that their loyalty is currently the lowest in the New Zealand workforce.
It’s all too convenient to assume that management’s relationship with the boomers took terminal blow in the awful ’80s and ’90s when euphemisms ruled the employment sector. How so many could be right-sized, restructured, re-engineered or downsized but never apparently fired, left society perplexed and many employees cynical, bitter and twisted.
To assign the ‘loyalty backlash’ theory to present-day survey results misses the point. lot has changed since then. Employers have had time to re-build relationships and trust, and the boomers have had time to heal and forgive, if not forget. Their present lack of loyalty reflects real-time needs managers are either not adequately helping employees satisfy, or are in some way impeding.
Family issues are now the brunt of baby boomer worries. In early 2004, one-year follow up survey from the first Tower/TNS ‘What worries New Zealanders’ survey found that changing responsibilities at home and work had shifted the focus of New Zealanders’ worries more toward the family. One in four women and one in five men frequently worry about the sacrifices they have to make to have family, with family worries rising by 12 percent to 39 percent in the follow-up survey.
As the majority of ‘the sandwich generation’, boomers are saddled with the economic and caretaker responsibilities of elderly parents and children, says Barbara Glenie, the current employment convenor and former national president of the National Council of Women of New Zealand. In some cases grandchildren are tossed in for good measure.
The ‘sandwich’ experience is literally squeezing boomers, causing financial pressure and associated stress. Previously people simply moved from childhood to adolescence and then on to adulthood. Now an intermediate phase has emerged. In the years of 18 to 25 and beyond, there’s distinct and separate life stage in which young people stall for few years.
This delaying of adult responsibility undoubtedly provides respite for the offspring, but it eats into the parental nest egg, creating the need to reconsider retirement timing and plans. Many parents welcome few additional years with the kids, but there are additional cost and domestic support implications which add more stress to already stressful lives.
Gender also creates different experience and set of pressures for boomers. Women remain the principal caregivers for both children and parents, with the sharing of family responsibilities improving but not to 50 percent, says Glenie.
And, she says, women enter their careers and must mix it with the guys while simultaneously considering the timing of their families – if indeed they plan to have one. They can’t leave it too late and so life must be planned with precision. Then follows questions like: who will look after the children when they’re sick and mum’s working? Women, says Glenie, frequently take holidays and sick leave to care for the kids, limiting the time they have to themselves.
In traditional two-parent families men still sometimes compensate for the imbalance in sharing family responsibilities by working longer hours to get ahead faster. Friction in the relationship grows when the spouse interprets the absence as reluctance to contribute to family commitments. Communication breaks down and suddenly common and destructive cycle that breaks up many families is in motion.
To employers failing to engage employees, the idea of tapping into people passions might seem like an exercise in futility. But second shift that has occurred makes it valuable loyalty-creating strategy. Boomers apparently want to actively pursue their dreams and passions, either directly through employment or by using their job as financial enabler.
According to Peter Neilson, chief executive of the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development (NZBCSD), people previously worked to build their nest-egg. They expected to pursue their passions later in life. Now they don’t want to wait until they are 50. “They are asking; why can’t I do that now? Why can’t I combine that with employment?” he adds.
The job is no longer the anchor in many people’s lives. “Allowing time for other interests in their life and work is one of the means by which they can do the other things they’re really passionate about,” suggests Neilson. “Employers should not be saying ‘come here because you’ll have job until retirement’. Instead they should say; ‘come here because you might be able to use your skills and, if you like, combine them with the other things you want to do that you’re passionate about’.”
Passions stem from personal values. Neilson sees two things as key to building employee loyalty.
• Provide explicit recognition of their need to pursue their passions within or through their employment.
“Management isn’t getting any easier. It’s never been an easy job but now you’ve got to think about what your employees are looking for in [all aspects of] their lives, not just what happens in the workplace,” says Neilson.
• Match the employee’s values at recruitment with the values of the organisation.
“People like workplace that reflects their values and their aspirations. Those organisations that can better match the values of the people in the talent pool available are more likely to be successful both in attracting and retaining people.”
New Zealand’s public service fairs no better than its private sector counterpart when it comes to employee satisfaction, motivation and loyalty studies. In SEEK Intelligence’s study ‘Employee satisfaction and motivation 2004’, it faired worse than any other sector with 59 percent of employees “hating” the quality of their management.
But it is working hard to improve its position by winning employees’ hearts, minds and loyalty. It is working on the quality of leadership in public sector ranks and has taken action to provide resources to educate and inform managers about the needs and expectations of their staff, and secondly evolve and grow managers into better leaders.
It has, for example, created the Leadership Development Centre (LDC), charitable trust with 10 CEOs on its board. The LDC was established to provide services directly to public sector CEOs, nominated senior managers and HR specialists.
So what does the LDC see as the solution to better leadership and more employee loyalty? “More rounded managers,” says Bruce Anderson, the LDC’s chief executive. Great leadership, says Anderson, starts with self-awareness and self-development. “You build on the model of the ‘whole person.’ If you can’t live your life in balance, you’re unlikely to be top leader in the public service.” Mono-maniacs, says Anderson, just won’t work in the public service.
The public service faces the same challenges as other sectors. It has too many top line technicians promoted to managerial roles with little or no specific training. The LDC was established to provide broad leadership development options and some rounding off

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