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Employee Retention or Employee Loyalty?

Reprinted from: Success Performance Solutions by Ira Wolfe | June 23, 2010

Which is better: employee retention or loyalty? The answer isn’t as obvious as you think.

These are some common remarks shared by disgruntled, long-term employees:

· “All the owners care about is the money.”

· “They’ll never pay me what I deserve anyway.”

· “No one understands how miserable my life is except the people I work with.”

· “I’d walk out right now, but I need the health benefits. Besides I only have 12 more years until retirement.”

How would you like to have these employees interacting with your customers? It happens all the time but many employers don’t do a thing about it. Why? Perhaps it’s because these employees are often viewed as the “reliable” and “constant” people who show up for work day-after-day, month-after-month, year-after-year.

I’ve heard these employees described as “loyal” even though they truly hate their jobs (or worse yet, their employers). These employees, however, are better described as “self-martyrs”. The self-martyr is driven by hopelessness. Self martyring employees believe their employers are out to take advantage of them. They filter questions like, “Why should I bother looking elsewhere? Every company, job, and boss is the same.” That’s why self-martyrs stay put. “It’s wasted effort to seek employment elsewhere.” They blame their unhappy existence on everyone else. They lack the ambition to change and yet this is the very behavior that their employers recognize as “loyalty”. These are the employees who are routinely rewarded for perfect attendance and dependability.

Certainly this isn’t what employers hope to perpetuate in their workforces, is it? The impact of self-martyrdom on individual and company morale is devastating. Employee negativity is such a destructive force in the workplace! By rewarding these people for their misconceived “loyalty”, perhaps the employer is actually perpetuating the damaging behaviors brought on by self-martyrs rather than encouraging more productive behaviors and the ultimate retention of top performing employees.

Self-martyrdom is an aphrodisiac. The effect it has on truly motivated and engaged employees can be devastating. If you’ve ever worked alongside self-martyrs, you’ll agree that their behavior can have a powerful pull. Even the best employees, those who are motivated, engaged, and enthusiastic about their work can succumb to this type of pressure during difficult times. They can start saying to themselves: “Maybe they’re right. Who am I to think I can make a difference. Look, these employees have been here a long time and look how they’re treated.”

Many of us have been sucked into this sinkhole of hopelessness only to wake up one day and extract ourselves from this pit of employment despair. When a company mistakes self-martyrdom for loyalty, self-martyrs stay and the top performers leave. Ironically, employer policies and programs may actually be the reason why employers lose their key, most productive employees: misguided retention policies and ill-conceived recognition programs.

So, guess again: Which is better … employee retention or loyalty? You may want to find out why they’re staying before you label them “loyal”

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