The value of loyalty

Jul 10, 2022

With all the discussion about the “great resignation,” why isn’t anyone talking about the employees that aren’t jumping ship?

A quick internet search will show you that employee retention statistics have changed wildly over the past few years, and it’s not just because of the global pandemic. Employee loyalty statistics show that the average tenure of employment has decreased steadily over the past 10 years. On average, an employee will stay with their company for only four years.

Social media isn’t helping, especially with the younger generation. Videos and articles on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok are telling millennials and Gen Z employees they should change jobs every two to three years or they will be left behind! Loyalty is not something people talk about much lately, and even then, it’s usually in the negative.

So, this begs the question, what is the value of staying at a company? What is the value of not jumping around every few years? What is the value of loyalty?

As a Gen X executive who has stayed at the same engineering firm for more than 21 years, I often ask myself this question. And every time I answer, I determine the value of staying exceeds the benefits of leaving. With that knowledge, I’ve been able to lead by example trying to instill the same values in my team. While we can’t always avoid turnover, my small team of 24 environmental, health, and safety professionals grew to 75 in just over five years – and two of those years were during the pandemic!

What is it that makes me stay? Is it the company? My team? Honestly, the answer is going to be different for each person, and even my answer changes with time. But I have found that there are three main benefits that have been consistent throughout my two decades at Pennoni. The three values of loyalty that I’ve seen in my career have included:

  1. Taking risks to chase your dreams. Loyalty is valuable because it allows us (employees and employers) to take risks with people we trust. Earning trust of an employer will often allow you to be loyal to your own dreams and aspirations. Employers are more likely to allow long-term employees to chase career goals that sometimes may not fully align with existing business plans. Every time you change jobs, you must “re-prove” yourself to an employer. My tenure at Pennoni has earned me the trust of our president and COO to take risks like expanding our service line into industrial hygiene – something very different for a traditional engineering company. Taking risks can then lead to more success and, hopefully, more compensation.
  2. Getting promoted and recognized. Everyone wants to make more money, get promoted, and be recognized. The lure of a promotion or raise by a new company is difficult to ignore because it is immediate gratification. It is hard to be loyal when it feels like it comes at a cost. Patience can be hard, but it can also be more rewarding. Being loyal means being devoted and, yes, can also mean being vulnerable, but that never means being naive. Employers don’t want blind trust. Loyalty must be a two-way street and compensation and growth is part of that trust. You must know your value and fight for it. If the employer doesn’t recognize your worth, it is time to move on, but when did patience become such a negative trait? Over my tenure at Pennoni, I have been promoted nine times and I don’t think I’ve hit my ceiling yet. Loyalty, combined with quality performance, will allow for steady linear career growth, advancement, and compensation. Not only does time allow for advancement, but it also builds relationships.
  3. Building connections and relationships. Nothing should be more treasured than loyal friends and collaborators! Psychological studies show that gratitude is intrinsically connected to loyalty. Many of us in the AEC world already know this applies in the sales world. The more connected you are with a person and the more they get to know you, the more they are likely to work with you. The same applies in the workplace, especially with coworkers. When you change jobs, it takes time for your colleagues to get to know your personality, expertise, and abilities. Sometimes building these relationships can take years! If you change jobs frequently you are less likely to build roots and long-lasting connections. Developed relationships allow us to be true to ourselves and our values.

Every employer, not just those in the environmental, health, and safety industry, will always need to deal with employee recruitment and retention. But instead of managing employees knowing they may leave every three to four years (or less), why don’t we manage employees to stay more than 20 years? Or maybe for an entire career? To keep our employees, we need to educate and mentor them on the value of loyalty. As employers and managers, however, we need to ensure that we are giving our loyal employees additional trust, consistent increases in compensation, and ways to build and develop relationships.

As the EHS practice leader for Pennoni, I have found that vision and grit by a leader sets the course of a group of people, but it requires shared goals and values from everyone. The shared vision set by the leader propels a team down the path toward a single goal, while loyalty is the glue that keeps everyone together when things get tough. 

Alan Lloyd, CIH, CSP, ENV SP, is vice president and EHS practice leader at Pennoni, a multi-disciplined engineering firm based in Philadelphia. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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