Employee Loyalty in an Oompa-Loompa World
“While traveling abroad in search of new candy flavors, Willy Wonka encountered a race of tiny people called Oompa-Loompas. Hunted by vicious beasts such as the Snozzwangers and wicked Whangdoodles, the Oompa-Loompas had taken refuge in the tree tops of Loompaland living only on mashed green caterpillars, they desired cocoa beans above anything. Wonka immediately invited the entire Oompa-Loompa colony to his factory. Now the Oompa-Loompas comprise the entire chocolate factory workforce – in exchange for all the cocoa beans they desire.” (From Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory).
Oompa-Loompas were in a sticky situation. Their basic needs such as safety and food were not being met. One would suspect that the children were suffering terribly, eating only mashed green caterpillars. So Oompa-Loompas reached an agreement, a compact, with Willy Wonka. He gave them a safe place to live and all the cocoa beans they wanted and in exchange they provided the labor that made his chocolate factory run. For them the bargain provided a much better environment and their loyalty to Willy was high – at least in the beginning. What hypothetically could unfold next for them? As economic conditions improved and additional opportunities for the Oompa-Loompas from other chocolate factories came about, Oompa-Loompas began to demand a livable wage and shorter work weeks. They resented the fact that Willy looked outside of the factory for a successor to himself, wondering why none of them were good enough. One was quoted as saying “we have given our lives to making this place successful, and now that Willy is thinking of retiring, he is choosing to bring in a new CEO from the outside rather than promoting from within.” The Oompas-Loompas decided they needed third party representation and a general strike was called. Willy was beside himself, not understanding how those he had rescued and provided for, those he brought into his factory and treated like family could be so ungrateful.
There has been a lot written about the changing role of organizations in terms of their responsibility to employees and employee’s responsibilities to them. What is the current compact between workers and their employers? What do employers expect and what is foremost on the minds of today’s employees? What are they hoping to get out of an employment situation? Are there similarities to these factors as we travel the globe? Are they willing to work for…. beans?
Years ago organizations in order to compete for talent and to have a stable skilled workforce offered what was described as cradle to grave employment – high job security, part of a paternalistic approach. Various iterations later it is safe to say that few organizations are willing to offer that approach to employment. Yet they still desire the loyalty of the employee, convinced that having a loyal workforce is a path to organizational success. Re-engaging the workforce is consider critical to success today. Some people I have talked to in organizations lament that “today’s workers have no loyalty; they just hop from employer to employer.” I strongly suspect that the reason for their lack of loyalty rests firmly in terms of how they perceive themselves being treated by the employer – loyalty is a two-way street. How do you achieve loyalty in today’s environment? What is the new compact that organizations need to forge with their workforce?
Let’s examine one aspect. Some organizations have responded to the need to re-establish loyalty by offering innovative perks such as concierge services, game rooms, dry-cleaning on premises, special prizes, killer cafeterias and a host of other convenience factors. These kinds of perks are attractive and no one is going to say “oh – please no, I just couldn’t eat another 5-star free meal”, but I firmly believe that they are all on the wrong track. These kinds of perks are really just another form of paternalism and don’t get to the heart of what is important to employees long term.
Employers today should establish a compact with employees of mutuality. What is mutuality? Mutuality is when a win-win situation is created for both the firm and for the employees within the firm. For instance, one aspect of mutuality revolves around job security. Employers can no longer guarantee life-long job security and many employees have taken that in and no longer expect it. But an employee is likely to feel that if they can no longer be guaranteed a job here, they need to keep their eyes open and if a better opportunity comes along, maybe they should grab it. “After all, I have no guarantees if I stick around.” So how might an employer overcome a sense of temporariness that has been created?
One way would be to increase the confidence level that the employees of the firm have in their ability to find another job in their field, increasing their career security. By preparing your employees to leave and making them eminently employable, then the pressure to grab another job when one comes along is actually less – I can wait. While it may at first sound counter-intuitive, employers should work diligently to keep their employees as current in their skills and education as possible. They should work hard to make their employees marketable and attractive to other potential employers. If they are more attractive to others they will be more attractive to you as well. Employees, seeing that the company cares enough about them to develop them, are more likely to stick around for further development opportunities and this mutuality of benefit will result in an increase in employee loyalty. By keeping employees up-to-date in their skill sets, not only does the company benefit by the enhanced skill set, but is also likely to benefit by keeping that skill set in-house. Additional benefits are likely to accrue from the additional flexibility afforded to the organization that increased education and skills of their workforce would bring about.
© 2010 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
Visit OV: www.orgvitality.com