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How Does a Manager Win a Worker's Loyalty?

A group of people sitting around a table in a meeting room.

You pay your employees a good wage and offer competitive benefits. You provide advancement opportunities in a fair manner and give feedback on a regular basis.

But, managers: Do you have your employees' backs?

Personal loyalty matters when it comes to retaining staff and maintaining productivity, experts say. "People almost never leave for more money, unless they are grossly underpaid," said Debbie Millman, who was president of marketing and advertising firm Sterling Brands for 20 years, during which time the New York City company grew to 150 employees from 15. Instead, management must build personal loyalty by looking out for workers' individual needs and making sure they feel part of the company mission, said Millman, who now hosts the podcast Design Matters.

A 2017 CareerBuilder survey of more than 3,600 employees found that 75 percent say they are loyal to their companies, but just 54 percent believe management is loyal to them.

Building employee loyalty to management starts with treating workers like people, rather than cogs in a company wheel, said Heather Deyrieux, SHRM-SCP, president of HR Florida State Council, a state affiliate of the Society for Human Resource Management. "The leaders who get the most out of their people are the managers who care most about their people," Deyrieux said. She advises:

*Having frequent one-on-one conversations. At least once a month, managers should sit down with employees and ask about career aspirations as well as things they're doing outside of work. Everybody, regardless of where they are in their career, wants to be engaged and wants to feel like they have a future at the company if they want one, she said.

*Providing flexibility. That means not just understanding when people have to take the car in for repairs during the workday, but having managers fill in to do the work themselves if someone has to be out of the office. "Caring about your people [means] being able to jump into any position, any role" to support the team, Deyrieux said.

*Encouraging innovation and optimism. That means giving employees permission to fail as they try new ideas and making sure they know you believe in their abilities.

Recognition at the office is also key, experts say. For example, Deyrieux has a "Win Wall" that lauds employees not just for at-work accomplishments but for personal achievements, as well, such as completing a college course.

"Survey after survey shows that employees would stay longer and work harder if they felt recognized and appreciated,'' said Sarah Greenberg, lead coach and program design lead at BetterUp, a career and life coaching firm based in San Francisco. She cites a Glassdoor study showing that 53 percent of employees say they would stay longer at their company if they felt more appreciation from their boss, and that 81 percent report they're motivated to work harder when their boss shows appreciation for their work.

Jillian Bridgette Cohen, CEO and co-founder of the New York City-based wellness and weight-loss company Virtual Health Partners, makes sure everyone at the company shares in the financial rewards of good performance, not just the sales team.

"I believe there's a close tie between employee recognition and company loyalty," she said. "Employees who feel recognized for their contributions continue to deliver great work and tend to stay at a company because those efforts get rewarded."

To that end, Cohen offers a quarterly financial incentive to all employees who do their jobs well or perform above expectations. If bonuses are offered only to employees who bring in new business, it's not fair to the HR people who recruited and hired the staff who did that work, she said. HR should share in the benefits, too.

This system not only builds a "culture of fairness" but also "encourages employees to push outside of their comfort zones, so that they're growing professionally at the company, which reinforces loyalty," Cohen said.

Team-building activities also help build personal loyalty to management. But they should not be conducted by an outside organization, said Robin Widdis, vice president of the employee benefits division at the Plymouth Meeting, Pa., office of management services company CBIZ. "We do a better job [at building loyalty] by taking them somewhere—a baseball game, for example. Something we can do on a smaller basis. They seem to like it a lot more."

Finally, as in all good relationships, communication is key, she said. It's important to make sure people not only get feedback on a regular basis but also receive the coaching they need to act on it.

Said Widdis: "I'm a big believer that you need to be a good listener. Sometimes people just need to get things off their chest."

Susan Milligan is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.


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