Tanveer Naseer

Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Writer

How Leaders Build Employee Loyalty In The Most Trying Times

The following is a guest post by Jeremy Kingsley.

Lack of loyalty is a serious problem in organizations everywhere today.

No longer do people join a company and devote the rest of their working lives to it. Companies are, of course, not exactly known for offering up thirty or forty years of employment, a gold watch and pension plan.

Times have changed. Businesses appear and disappear at a dizzying pace. So do the jobs they offer. People no longer expect to spend their working lives with the same company.

Organizations preoccupied with short-term, bottom line thinking often view their employees as little more than resources to be hired, fired, and manipulated as the need arises.

Both sides pay a price for this lack of loyalty. Workers are naturally less happy on the job when they sense little or no loyalty from their employer. I agree with Carmine Coyote about how the negative impacts on productivity are truly alarming:

  • People expect to be continually under threat of layoff, so they keep their resumes permanently on the market, changing jobs without concern for anything save their own short-term advantage.
  • Because they see executives cheerfully raiding the corporate coffers to enrich themselves, any natural unwillingness to engage in cheating or manipulating rules to put extra money in their own pockets is lessened.
  • Top level emphasis on quick, short-term returns (especially to themselves), permeates the organization as a whole, leading to everyone focusing on what will give them the biggest, quickest return—even if that means elbowing colleagues out of the way, playing the dirty politics, or hyping resumes to leverage a quick move somewhere else that is paying a few bucks more.
  • Loyalty to colleagues can turn into an us-versus-them attitude toward those higher up.
  • Worst of all, people feel devalued and see their work as less and less worthwhile. This creates emotional and psychological stresses and problems that go beyond the workplace and may last for some time.

What can you do to avoid this terrifying outcome? Learn from others.

A century ago, Ernest Shackleton was one of the most renowned explorers of his time. He was a member of Captain Randolph Scott’s Discovery Expedition to the Antarctic in 1901–04 and led the Nimrod Expedition to the Antarctic in 1907-09, when he and three companions marched farther south than any human had ventured before. He was knighted by the king of England for that effort.

Today, however, Shackleton is best known for a failed mission. In January 1915, while trying to be the first to journey across the Antarctica, he and his men aboard the Endurance were trapped in pack ice in the Weddell Sea and forced to abandon the ship. They floated on icebergs and paddled three small lifeboats to reach a remote, deserted island.

From there, Shackleton and five men embarked in one of the lifeboats on an eight-hundred-mile voyage through some of the planet’s stormiest waters, landing more than two weeks later at South Georgia Island in the South Atlantic. After a rest, Shackleton and two of his men hiked and climbed across treacherous mountains to a whaling station, where Shackleton procured a ship and sailed to rescue his comrades. Every member of the twenty-eight-man crew returned home safely.

Margot Morrell and Stephanie Capprell, in their book “Shackleton’s Way”, list eight principles Shackleton applied to forge unity and loyalty among his team. As a leader, Shackleton was ahead of his time. His principles are just as important in today’s modern workplace as they were in the Antarctic a hundred years ago:

  1. Take the time to observe before acting, especially if you are new to the scene. All changes should be aimed at improvements. Don’t make changes just for the sake of leaving your mark.
  2. Always keep the door open to your staff members, and be generous with information that affects them. Well-informed employees are more eager and better prepared to participate.
  3. Establish order and routine on the job so all workers know where they stand and what is expected of them. The discipline makes the staff feel they’re in capable hands.
  4. Break down traditional hierarchies and cliques by training workers to do a number of jobs, from the menial to the challenging.
  5. Where possible, have employees work together on certain tasks. It builds trust and respect and even friendship.
  6. Be fair and impartial in meting out compensations, workloads, and punishments. Imbalances make everyone feel uncomfortable, even the favoured.
  7. Lead by example. Chip in sometimes to help with the work you’re having others do. It gives you the opportunity to set a high standard and shows your respect for the job.
  8. Have regular gatherings to build esprit de corps. These could be informal lunches that allow workers to speak freely outside the office. Or they could be special holiday or anniversary celebrations that let employees relate to each other as people rather than only as colleagues.

Another, more contemporary example of how garnering the loyalty of your employees can benefit your organization can be seen in the example of trucking firm Southeastern Freight Lines. The company had made a profit each year for more than fifty years, but like everyone else, faced hard choices when the economy contracted. Southeastern’s owners and leaders decided that their people came before profits.

They established a plan to avoid layoffs, even though it might lead to financial losses for a period of time. If they had decided to institute a five percent pay cut and stopped the 401k match like many of their competitors, they could have come up with over 22 million dollars! They would have ended 2009 in the black. But loyalty to the workers and their well being was more important to the owners than the company’s back account.

I talked to a Southeastern employee after the plan was announced. He said the appreciation among workers within the company was unbelievable. Today, attitude and morale at the company are at an all-time high.

Strong leadership inspires strong loyalty.

If you demonstrate a strong measure of loyalty to your team, you’ll find that same measure of loyalty being returned to you. In these trying times – inspiring loyalty will help you get the most out of your team and lay the foundation for lasting success.

Jeremy Kingsley is a professional speaker and the President of OneLife Leadership. He is also the author of four books, including his upcoming book “Inspired People Produce Results” slated for release in March 2013. To learn more about Jeremy and his writings, visit his website at www.jeremykingsley.com.

Click here to subscribe to my blog so you can get my latest posts sent directly to your inbox.

  1. On October 2nd, 2012 at 2:21 PM Jen Kuhn said:

    Very insightful! The example of Southeastern Freight Lines is inspirational. There are few larger companies that demonstrate that level of commitment and loyalty to their employees. The ROI on their decisions is measured well beyond the bottom line.

  2. On October 3rd, 2012 at 9:21 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Jen; glad you enjoyed it. Good to see you here again.

  3. On October 3rd, 2012 at 12:28 AM Irreverent Sales said:

    Have you seen the 2010 Gallup Survey results that show that companies with Engaged Employees have a 3.9% greater increase in Earnings Per Share. It details what engagement means, too! Great Stuff!

  4. On October 3rd, 2012 at 12:06 PM @BlakeCavignac said:

    Lack of loyalty these days does seem like a common theme. I have thought a lot about this topic in the past and it seems like one of the fundamental issues is that people feel like now more than ever, they have to be looking out for their best interests or no one will.

    Although I can understand why they think this way, if you aspire to lead, this thought can never enter your mind. Instead you must be constantly thinking about how you can add value to the lives of others while showing them that you always have their best interests in mind.

    Through experience I have found that when people know you are looking out for them, they have a tendency to do the same.

  5. On October 9th, 2012 at 12:36 PM joseph12 said:

    Organizations preoccupied with short-term, bottom line thinking often view their employees as little more than resources to be hired, fired, and manipulated as the need arises.Thanks for sharing it.

  6. On October 10th, 2012 at 6:30 AM Mary said:

    I just recently started to read “Shackleton’s Way”…
    What I really like is the story about Southeastern Freight Lines, I wish more companies would act like that as they would be the ones to benefit from this in the long run.

  7. On October 13th, 2012 at 2:19 PM bxljenny said:

    Very inspiring post! Thanks a lot…

  8. On October 13th, 2012 at 4:35 PM PowerMac G3 User said:

    I'm a serious proponent of listening to employees and working with them for "the greater good". However, I get constantly irked by employees who simply can't see the bigger picture and think that the company is just there to service me financially. If it were that simple, I'd sell it and take the profits, start up another one and do it all over again. Instead, I invest in my employees- or at least the ones that are around for more than just the 9-5

  9. On October 24th, 2012 at 9:52 PM cat said:

    What a good post. I grew up knowing about company loyalty. Sadly, toda'ys loyalty is about self not others. You gave such good points on how a good leader changes that thinking. Thanks for an inspiring read!

  10. On October 27th, 2012 at 6:11 AM Liz Mafuso said:

    Great find and right when I need more inspiration and scope for an assignment that I have to execute. THANK YOU.

Your Comment: