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Employee Loyalty in an Oompa-Loompa World

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“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.

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

February 10, 2010 at 6:44 pm

2 Responses

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  1. The new workforce loyality is alive and kicking! Are you ready? Public and private organizations are into a phase of creative disassembly where constant reinvention and adjustments are constant. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are being shed by Chevron, NUMI, Wells Fargo Bank, HP, Starbucks etc. and the state, counties and cities. Even solid world class institutions like the University of California Berkeley under the leadership of Chancellor Birgeneau & Provost Breslauer are firing staff, faculty and part-time lecturers. Estimates are that the State of California may jettison 47,000 positions.
    Yet many employees, professionals and faculty cling to old assumptions about one of the most critical relationship of all: the implied, unwritten contract between employer and employee.
    Until recently, loyalty was the cornerstone of that relationship. Employers promised job security and a steady progress up the hierarchy in return for employees fitting in, performing in prescribed ways and sticking around. Longevity was a sign of employeer-employee relations; turnover was a sign of dysfunction. None of these assumptions apply today. Organizations can no longer guarantee employment and lifetime careers, even if they want to.
    Organizations that paralyzed themselves with an attachment to “success brings success’ rather than “success brings failure’ are now forced to break the implied contract with employees – a contract nurtured by management that the future can be controlled.
    Jettisoned employees are finding that the hard won knowledge, skills and capabilities earned while being loyal are no longer valuable in the employment market place.
    What kind of a contract can employers and employees make with each other? The central idea is both simple and powerful: the job or position is a shared situation. Employers and employees face market and financial conditions together, and the longevity of the partnership depends on how well the for-profit or not-for-profit continues to meet the needs of customers and constituencies. Neither employer nor employee has a future obligation to the other. Organizations train people. Employees develop the kind of security they really need – skills, knowledge and capabilities that enhance future employability.
    The partnership can be dissolved without either party considering the other a traitor. Employee loyalty to management is dead – get used to it.

    moravecglobal

    August 16, 2010 at 9:14 pm

  2. This blog makes an interesting comparison between the fictional Oompa-Loompas and challenges faced in employee loyalty and engagement.
    In this challenging time with high unemployment rates and shifting financial situations, aspects of cradle to the grave employment have returned not out of loyalty to the employer but more so out of the need to have a stability in uncertain times.
    What this has led to is a climate of employees disengaged to some level and without the perceived level of loyalty to the employer or organisation that was observed in earlier times. I say perceived loyalty here because it is argued that a company is not the sort of entity to which one can be loyal to. In fact as outlined in (Duska, 1990), in (The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, 2014) loyalty implies actions based on obligations stemming from an acknowledgement of the importance of an emotional relationship.
    The Oompa-Loompas seem to desire loyalty from Mr Wonka but should this be expected from someone and in fact an organisation who exists to create profit?
    (The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, 2014 Pg.14) makes the conclusion that in an appropriate relationship between an employer and an employee, each will owe the other an obligation of loyalty. The key question here is to ask is if the agreement between Mr Wonka and the Oompa-Loompas is in fact an appropriate relationship.
    In this blog it is discussed that the use of innovative perks as a method of re-establishing loyalty is on the wrong track. I disagree with this statement and it is clear that others do as well as outlined in (Maling, 2014) a clear example of this is Google and the power of company loyalty through benefits. What is interesting is that some of these benefits may in fact be written into agreements and contract while some may just be given.
    Is this the case with the Oompa-Loompas?
    One could argue that Mr Wonka used innovative perks with the Oompa-Loompas by providing them with cocoa beans and a safe place to live. Part of the argument is was it in fact in their best interests or was the greater good weighted more in favour towards the output of the organisation?
    Is there a balance between the removal of some of the hardships faced by the Oompa-Loompas outside the factory with good working environments? Or has there merely been a switch from lack of food and concern for their children to low wages and long working hours? This concept can certainly be compared to sweatshop labour where the statement “utilitarian’s would most likely agree that the use of sweatshops is wrong, since the amount of pain makes the pleasure gained not worth it”. (No, DeMarco, & Bodnar, n.d.)
    We can also think about loyalty in terms of it being a virtue and if we think about this in terms of ethical theories these apply to a person’s own behaviours rather than what is deemed right or wrong by some form of law.
    The opposite of loyalty is disloyalty so this begs the question is Willy Wonka acting virtuously in looking outside the Oompa-Loompas for someone to run the chocolate factory and therefore being disloyal? I believe the answer lies in the intentions of why Mr Wonka brought the Oompa-Loompas into his factory in the first place. Did these intentions come from a virtuous stance such as generosity? One could argue that compassion was behind Mr Wonka’s decision to assist the Oompa-Loompas and therefore he was acting in a virtuous way. But an argument could also be place on him seeing them as only a means to an end.
    At the heart of the loyalty argument is the level of obligation owed by the Oompa-Loompas as Mr Wonka saved them from an uncertain and unsafe future, but does this mean also given the dedication that they gave to Mr Wonka in return that is has been reciprocated and there is an obligation in the other direction as well?
    There is also a relationship to the contractual arrangements. Are the offerings by Mr Wonka clearly contractually obligated in return for work? Or are they in fact innovative perks as discussed earlier. We really need to keep in mind that if actions called for by loyalty fall outside of what is required by contract, perhaps they are not things one is obliged to do. (The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, 2014, p. 16)

    Is there something bigger here as well as the question of loyalty? The wages and long hours are considered employment relationship problems but covering up the importation of Oompa-Loompas to replace local labour well that is something that could be considered an ethical quandary that will need some considered options for action.
    Is it perhaps time that Charlie became a whistle blower on this whole situation? As a member of the organisation, disclosing information about what is going on at the chocolate factory to the media and other external agencies is viewed by the company as an act of disloyalty (The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, 2014, p. 17) and as a result would open up another conversation on both loyalty and innovative perks, we all remember that golden ticket right.
    Just think – what if we were not talking about Oompa-Loompas and were discussing undiscovered child labour. I know I would be blowing the whistle regardless of perks and loyalty.

    References
    Duska, R. F. (1990). Whistleblowing and employee loyalty.
    Maling, B. (2014). Building Company Loyalty With Unusual Benefits. Retrieved from HR World: http://www.hrworld.com/features/build-loyalty-unusual-benefits/
    No, G., DeMarco, V., & Bodnar, B. (n.d.). A Utilitarian View. Retrieved April 2014, from The Horror of Sweatshops: http://horrorsofsweatshops.weebly.com/a-utilitarian-view.html
    Richards, J. (1993). The Sceptical Feminist.
    Saltzman, J. (2010). Employee Loyalty in an Oompa-Loompa World. Retrieved from Jeffrey Saltzman’s Blog : https://jeffreysaltzman.wordpress.com/2010/02/10/employee-loyalty-in-an-oompa-loompa-world/
    The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. (2014). Module 2. Learning Guide – 71203 Business Ethics. Lower Hutt, New Zealand: Author.

    Ethics Student

    May 5, 2014 at 10:01 pm


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