What Makes Employees Loyal to Their Companies?
Length of stay has little to do with it, but purpose trumps everything
What does it mean for you to be loyal to a company?
I asked this question to senior engineers from my team and my network. And throughout several dozen conversations, I was shocked.
I expected most answers to be what companies mean when they say “loyalty”.
What the typical HR department or executive means by “loyalty” is “length of stay”. They want to know that you aren’t going to create any unnecessary churn and that you will stick around even if your workplace sucks.
That wasn’t the answer I got.
Over the course of my conversations, the key definition of loyalty was working to find solutions no matter the problem.
Following up on how loyalty is won or lost, near every engineer was focused on their companies and teams cutting them in on the why of the work they were doing.
Rather than loyalty being indicated by time in position, loyalty from an employee’s point of view was about working hard, delivering value, fixing problems, and mutual trust. You can be incredibly loyal and dedicated for one week and leave the next.
Your departure doesn’t revoke your previous record.
Why the Why?
Engineers need to feel driven by their work to strive to make things better and solve problems. The best way to feel connected and driven to what you’re doing is to understand why you are doing it.
If I ask you to change all the buttons in a UI from one shade of blue to another you may feel that what you’re doing is a waste of time.
Why should it matter? One shade of blue is the same as any other.
If I asked you to do the same task, but explained it was to provide a sufficient color contrast so that color-blind individuals could use the website, you would approach the work quite differently.
Knowing the business problems (or the whys of work) gives meaning to what is being done and fuels delivery — it fosters a connection to the team, company, and brand.
I’m most passionate at work when I believe in what I’m doing and want it to succeed. So, if loyalty is about bringing your full self to solving problems, building loyalty is about being candid with the whys of the work. It’s about finding ways to enable engineers to connect and care about what they do.
How Loyalty Dies
I also asked how a company can lose the trust of employees. There were two distinct answers. One was being disingenuous: not delivering on promises or lacking in integrity. To me, that should be table stakes for any modern organization.
The second reason was feeling unable to contribute: unable to deliver on their work or to make change.
These are no small things.
The power of knowing why also comes with responsibility — the responsibility to challenge the why if you think the actions you’re being asked to take won’t deliver on it. You also have the right to challenge the why if you believe it to be antithetical to the company’s mission or the greater good.
Everyone operates off of different values, but we all work to deliver.
Finding ways to pull more team members in and have them feel connected to the work can do nothing but inspire. That connection and empowerment is built on the foundation of knowing why work is being done — the reason why “the why” is the foundation of corporate loyalty.