Google—12,000. Amazon—18,000. Walt Disney Company—7,000. IBM—4,000.
Those are the layoffs announced recently by some of the biggest global companies in the most visible industries.
Put aside the sheer numbers and focus on how these leaders decided to inform impacted people—e-mails, Zoom, third-parties, external sources—and it’s no wonder employees have long ditched loyalty and taken a very personal, and some say selfish, approach to their own careers and company affinity.
The lineage of such behavior can be traced back to the late 70s and early 80s when globalization first hit our shores. It was then that leaders panicked and began a three decades-long assault on employment—downsizing, rightsizing, restructuring, transformation, change management—to reduce costs, gain efficiency and increase innovation.
The actual business results from such moves have been uneven at best. Often, eliminating jobs and placing more responsibility on those remaining has only increased anxiety, stress, anger and attrition.
Fast forward to today.
The numbers above indicate not much has been learned by corporate chieftains and their boards, even considering the sea change in workplace expectations resulting from COVID. The dirty little secret, though, is that for organizations large and small, employee loyalty is the one true measure of business viability and must be recouped.
To get there, below is a framework of recapturing corporate loyalty and achieving organizational viability:
Daily affirmation: The world is moving too fast, and people need a daily update on the business—accomplishments, challenges, failures, competitive threats, societal shifts, etc.
Co-creation: People want a say in their work and careers. Decisions need to be moved closer to the work and away from corporate leaders.
Communications standard: Every company should enforce a communications standard that promises a level of dialogue, discussion and debate among all levels of the business. For employees, it demands curiosity and the need to seek and assimilate information. For leaders, it means operating an open, transparent, and content-rich environment.
Leadership interaction: A healthy organization is one where leaders and employees have a regular and real relationship based on visibility, approachability and communications.
Regular policy calibration: Policies tend to get stale or obsolete. Updating employment policies is an essential part of remaining a relevant organization. Having employees involved is key.
Customer and marketplace visibility: Everything meaningful to a business happens externally. It is where customers affirm your relevance and influencers generate opinions on your viability. Making the marketplace central to your internal discussion keeps the workforce agile and knowledgeable. This leads to organizational confidence.
Empathy: COVID reinforced the importance of empathy. People are working extremely hard today to keep pace. Being understanding and compassionate unleashes the human side of people causing positive and productive results.
Stronger manager-employee relationships: Ground Zero of an enterprise in terms of relationships is the manager/supervisor-employee dynamic. Yet many organizations struggle with improving such relationships. Fix this and all else turns positive.
Core internal communications is about business and people storytelling: Internal communications is a critical, strategic business capability. Done right, it provides the infrastructure necessary to lead and manage while allowing the workforce to operate seamlessly and synergistically against the business priorities.
Retention—promotion, recognition: Operationally, when it comes to loyalty, employees are most concerned with the equitable and fair treatment of people about promotions and recognition. Nepotism, politics, etc., are loyalty nukes and will fester throughout the culture causing dysfunction and disarray.
Recruitment—talent, attitudinal: Similarly, in seeking new talent, current employees are cognizant of the “right fit” in terms of talent and attitude. Bringing in people who don’t espouse the company’s values only divides people, distancing them from the business. Involving the appropriate employees in the process ensures the result will be accepted and applauded internally.
Placing responsibility and accountability at the right doorstep: The layoffs cited above indicate that leaders still don’t get it. Those laid off or let go without a reason represent the shield protecting the true culprits who caused the situation to form in the first place. A healthy organization does not hide from the truth. Rather, it accepts the blame and course corrects accordingly taking into account the people side of the equation.
Diversity, Inclusion: To gain and maintain employee loyalty in the workplace, it must be an inclusive effort that rewards diversity of people and thought. Superficial or hollow messages regarding DE&I will only erect a barrier to loyalty and trust.
Social and Environmental Issues: Organizations are now expected to engage with societal challenges and questions. From the environment to inequality, from racism to waste or fraud, CEOs and the companies they lead are looked to for perspective, insight and action.
Regaining Loyalty in the Workplace
Employee Loyalty has been an afterthought for decades as technology, insularity and empowerment filled the chasm left by impromptu and ill-conceived management actions designed to fix the business.
As we read above, running through all these measures is one word: RESPECT.
Employing respect for every person culminates in respect back to the organization. Even when drastic measures such as lay-offs or furloughs are necessary, how these actions are conducted—open, honest, transparent, fair and empathetic—maintain employee loyalty.
Much like fashion (think: bell-bottom jeans) company loyalty is back in vogue. And not a minute too soon!
Gary F. Grates is principal at GConsulting Group, a consulting and advisory firm specializing in business transformation, corporate communications, crisis mitigation, corporate relevance/reputation, CEO positioning, ESG, and employee communications/engagement. He was principal at RealChemistry, served as president/global managing director at Edelman Change and Employee Engagement and was VP-communications/North America at General Motors Corporation.