Loyalty is a bad word

2011-08-08 00:00

IF you want loyalty get a job — I mean dog.

When I was a child, my parents taught me that loyalty was a good thing. It was one of those tried and trusted values that came along with honesty and trust. But these days loyalty is obsolete, especially in the workplace.

Those people who stick in one job for many years are derided as "boring" and are often referred to as "dead wood". The flighty job hoppers jump from job to job, getting increases and climbing the corporate ladder.

If you have ambition and a ruthless streak you will do well in this new corporate world of slash-and-burn employment. You'll dodge retrenchments, ride the waves of incentive bonuses and appear super confident.

But if you are like so many people — Joe Average — you'll be abused. The corporate mentality is to treat employees like a number. So many companies invest nothing in their employees, they'll casually watch as talented employees resign and walk away. They offer no incentive for them to stay, they offer no vision of a future in the company and saddest of all they do not seem to realise what they are losing.

Many companies are trying to force out the old-timers by proposing early retirement packages. Do they know what they are losing? Reliability, ethics, and people who know their jobs inside out.

The cost of training a new employee is time and money, they have little workplace experience and take time to reach a level of competence. But the trend is to hire the cheapest person for the job. Once these people are trained and competent they leave and, again, the company is happy to watch them go. The cycle repeats itself.

When last did you hear of a long-service award? If people do get them they are usually token awards that don't even match one percent of what the boss takes home. That's some incentive to stay the course.

On average, a young person changes jobs every 18 months. Of course, they are looking to earn more, but how can they consolidate their skills.

There is a new buzz phrase in management, called knowledge management systems. It is about retaining the skills and knowledge that are vital in your business. Would it not be simpler to retain the people who already have the knowledge? Apparently not.

Interestingly, corporates will pay a small fortune to a consultant to learn about knowledge management but will never bother to ask an unhappy employee what it would take to make him or her stay. Sometimes it could be a small increase, flexible hours or a department transfer. Small change compared to the cost of training a new staffer.

Some companies have exit interviews for staffers who are leaving, but these are largely pointless if there is no genuine interest in retaining the employee. It turns into a finger-pointing exercise and, of course, the managers are never to blame.

But it's not all doom and gloom. There are some companies that are getting it right. They are looking at their staff as their biggest assets and are looking at ways to make their staff happy. United States company Google was voted as one of the best employers to work for. Google decided to design its headquarters with its employees' comfort in mind. The people at Google realised that so many people hours were wasted by people trying to squeeze in home-related chores during office hours.

Eric Schmidt, executive chairperson, said: "Our goal was to strip away everything that got in the employees' way. So we provide a standard package of fringe benefits and, in addition, first-class dining facilities, gyms, laundry rooms, massage rooms, hairdressers, car washes, dry cleaning and commuting buses, just about anything a hard-working employee might want."

In South Africa a few companies have begun to do this, Discovery offers its employees a range of facilities — banking and child care, and restaurants and shopping facilities are close by, so there is little need to leave the premises.

But on the whole, the majority of corporate companies still have the attitude of: "If you don't like it, leave." There is little wonder unions are signing up members in droves. Satisfied staffers are unlikely to be candidates for unions. If bosses treat their staff with a contemptuous attitude then it will be just as certain that staffers will treat their work with the same attitude.

As I said, if you want loyalty get a dog. But even dogs expect to be fed and when they get mistreated enough eventually they bite.

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