How to Effect Loyalty in the New Workforce  

It used to be obvious why employees felt disloyal to their companies.  Autocratic management, insufficient support, and hatchet-style layoffs led to a lack of trust – a foundational principle of loyalty.  But today, the best companies with top-notch pay, benefits, and training investments are finding a younger workforce less loyal, less trusting, and more willing to bail for higher pay, work-at-home, or more PTO.   

The reality is that the traditional indicators of worker loyalty – accepting direction, dedication, and longevity  – have changed.  Employers are likelier to see people  “quietly quitting” or scaling back on effort and initiative.  In addition, younger workers are mentally “checking out” or quitting without notice.  If your company is experiencing these symptoms, perhaps it’s time to redefine how you develop loyalty in your workplace.

The decline of worker loyalty

Employee loyalty often meant bosses could count on people enthusiastically pulling together when times get tough.  People worked extra hours to achieve essential goals or sacrificed a weekend to meet a critical deadline, trusting in a later raise or promotion.  

But even before the pandemic, employee loyalty was on the decline.  Companies sought higher profits by stifling the idea of birth-to-death employment and pensions for on-demand labor and automation.  In addition, younger Millennial and Gen Z workers saw their parents fired or furloughed and their homes foreclosed upon in the Great Recession.  As a result, leadership and companies were cast in a negative light.  A Pew Research study showed that 52% of younger people are less likely to trust older adults, while just 42% of young adults trusted companies

 With a societal decline of confidence in corporate, government, and media institutions, wide executive-employee pay gaps, and pandemic layoffs, it is no wonder workers are less trusting and less loyal!  It’s time to begin a conversation that more honestly addresses the needs of the new workforce.

New ways to create loyalty and trust

First, business owners know that top talent has them over a barrel.  Because of the tight labor market, high-value employees and new candidates call the shots in many industries.  But being unwilling to explore ways you can recreate your workplace, employment package, and culture could leave you behind and financially hurting.  

Make work meaningful and fun.  This generation does not want to work for work’s sake; they want meaningful and enjoyable work.  And they are bold enough to ask for it.  Connect the dots between your corporate social responsibility priorities, employee support programs (engagement, mental health, wellness, training), and opportunities for entrepreneurship.  Emphasize how these are a strategic priority and integral to your culture.  Finally, ask young candidates: what does the future workplace look like?  What is the optimal balance between work and leisure?  Engage them in a discussion about what a fair employment exchange looks like because they don’t get paid if the company doesn’t earn a profit!  Their feedback will help you understand how to build a next-generation workforce.  

Give people more autonomy and recognize and reward achievements.  Young workers do not always react well to being told what to do.  They value self-determination and decision-making, so exploit the skills you hired them for by giving them responsibility.  Gen Zers value mentorship for support and to help them to achieve success.  Replace hierarchical structures with communities of achievers, trusting them to complete tasks promptly.  Trust is a loyalty booster!

Increase loyalty with honesty.  Young people have finely honed BS meters.  They can tell when leadership is authentic or dishonest about challenges or changes.  In a 2021 Future Forum study, 66% of executives felt they were being very transparent, but 42% of employees disagreed.  To boost loyalty, young people need to feel they are playing on the same team.  Gen Z responds favorably to sharing the ‘why’ around decisions and evaluating what worked and went wrong.  Admit mistakes and apologize.

Finally, engage employees in streamlining work processes.  Job stress is a loyalty killer.  Reduce it by cutting outdated or unproductive tasks.  Leverage technology and automation whenever possible to relieve stress and overwork.  Revisit your mental health and wellness plans to ensure they keep up with pandemic-era needs.  And wellness-check your company culture to see how people are coping. 

The bottom line is that a younger workforce and new work environment are transforming how people stay loyal.  Your best chance of attracting and keeping young talent is by aligning with their social and environmental values, offering meaningful work, recognizing individual achievement, being trustworthy, and emphasizing a healthier work-life balance.