We hear a lot about people wanting loyal employees. The expectation that employees will be loyal because we give them a paycheck is common.  Here the definition of a loyal employee is an employee who considers the benefits for the company before the benefits for themselves.  However a lot of companies do everything in their power to make sure that employees will not be loyal.  What do I mean?
Here’s a typical day for one employee at an organization I worked for – I’m not using names to hide the guilty:
  • The day would start with this single mother coming up the elevator to find her supervisor waiting – solely to see if she arrived before she was to report for work – on-time arrival meant she would spend several minutes getting ready to work before actually starting!
  • Throughout the day her supervisor would walk by to check to if she was actually doing something or just sitting doing make work.
  • At lunch time the employee had to report that she was leaving and when she returned.
  • The employee’s time of departure was recorded.
Do you think this employee felt loyalty to the organization?  Considering her treatment, she was surprisingly loyal – working on improving conditions and access to information that made the organization look good to its customers and helping co-workers to perform their jobs with less effort and better reliability.  She sincerely wanted to help her co-workers do their jobs better by providing better service to them which she demonstrated time and again.
But the leader of the organization didn’t like her – and wanted her gone.  Eventually, she left for a job where she could be closer to family, have a shorter commute and where the organization wanted her.
The organization she left replaced her– I came to realize that people were not a resource but just interchangeable parts in the eyes of the leader.  So I left a while later without any regrets.
Actually, the organization was lucky because their actions against the employee met the standard definition of creating a hostile work environment and could easily have resulted in a lawsuit which they would have lost.  But the employee didn’t want to go through the hassle and less stressful ways were not even considered after a visit to the HR department.
Loyalty is an easy thing to gain or lose.  Great deeds generally doesn’t create it, neither does money or benefits.  It takes time to build it but only a second to lose it.  What does it take to create loyalty?  I have found it takes three attitudes:
  1. Loyalty up comes from loyalty down
One of the most painful lessons I learned as a young naval officer occurred one “night” aboard a submarine.  The officers had gathered in the dining room and had just started eating supper when the Executive Officer came in and asked why we were eating before the enlisted people had been fed.  We had assumed that if the cook was feeding us that the enlisted had been fed, but they hadn’t.  Officers are expected to take care of the enlisted before they take care of themselves.  It’s one of the reasons that the US Navy has great morale.
Unfortunately, too many organizations operate on the premise that employees are expenses that must be exploited for the most gain and eliminated whenever possible.  These are the organizations that are surprised that employees won’t give a bit more when the situation demands extra effort.  But why should they?  The organization’s attitude tomorrow will be “What have you done for me today?”
  1. It comes from seeing people as real individuals
Let me start by saying that the “boss” can’t be a friend (a lesson I learned in the Navy) but that doesn’t mean you can’t be afraid of expressing a concern for your employees.  Do you see your employees as the source of disruptions or as the source of valuable innovations?  Too many employers or leaders in organizations don’t want to have anything disrupt the routine of work even if the disruption is the presentation of a way of doing things better or making more money!
This means that you have to learn how to listen.  Listen to what your employees are saying and what they are not saying.  Is anyone willing to mention the elephant in the room?  People learn very quickly if the organization even cares for their ideas – are people afraid to venture their ideas in meetings?  If you were to suggest a stupid idea, would anyone call you on it or would they just accept it as given?
  1. It means to walk the talk
So many leaders are very capable of talking the walk – saying the right phrases – but, honestly, how many are able to really behave as they say they should?  There is all too often a double standard in the workplace which manifests itself in the reports of sexual assault, harassment, discrimination and all the other ills that have been at the forefront of the national dialogue for over 60 years – and it’s still deeply ingrained in our work practices and individual behaviors.  We are slow learners.
Everything I’m talking about could be as simple as turning the organization chart upside down.  Instead of the usual chart with the CEO at the top and everyone supported them – put yourself at the bottom supporting everyone else – your job is to help those above you in this chart with doing their jobs better, having a true balance between work and home, and developing better individuals in the community.
Who knows, you may discover real loyalty.

A physicist by trade, author by choice, a born teacher, a retired veteran, and an adamant problem solver, Frank has helped the White House, federal agencies, military offices, historical museums, manufacturers, and over 250 technology startups get stuff done, communicate effectively, and find practical solutions that work for them. In his spare time, he makes sawdust and watches Godzilla movies.