Rise in worker loyalty shows companies pay attention

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A quiet movement is bringing loyalty back into the workplace, a sign that perhaps companies are a little more attuned today toward the needs of their work force, according to a new study by Walker Information, an Indianapolis-based company that studies customer and employee loyalty.

Walker's latest survey finds that 34 percent of U.S. workers are truly committed to their employers. That might not seem like much, but it's up from 31 percent in 2003 and 24 percent in 2001.

Walker defines truly loyal employees as those who have made a firm commitment to their employers and plan to remain with those employers for at least two years.

The survey also notes that 31 percent of employees are ready to leave their jobs at any time, compared with 34 percent in 2003. An additional 28 percent of workers said they feel trapped in their jobs, down from 31 percent two years ago.

It's impressive that loyalty is making a comeback.

"Yes, the loyalty numbers are good when you look at them in comparison to past surveys, but there still is lots of room for improvement," says Walker's Michael DeSanto.

Still, DeSanto sees a fundamental shift in the relationships between workers and their employers.

Part of that may stem from forecasts that show a dramatic labor shortage starting later this decade and continuing on long past it.

"I think that's one of the things that has got everybody thinking about their jobs," he says.

DeSanto believes workers in recent years have begun to appreciate the benefits of stable work environments and have lowered their expectations of what constitutes a good employer.

At the same time, he says companies have slowly come to understand that workers can make the difference in the business world.

DeSanto believes that companies today realize that the cost of employee turnover is higher than they thought, when you factor in recruitment, training and missed opportunities caused by the loss of valuable employees.

"At the same time, it appears that over the past five or 10 years, employers have come to understand that turnover is not always good for customers," he says. "When you have turnover in the front lines or in management, customers see it. They know that things are changing. I think they like to know that the relationships they have built with the company will continue on, and employee turnover isn't good for that."

Meanwhile, DeSanto thinks companies have become more receptive to the needs of their employees.

"Companies have always solicited feedback from employees, but they haven't always heard that feedback," DeSanto says. "Today, it seems like they are listening to that feedback and taking action on it."

Walker's study indicated that 41 percent of employees said their company views workers as its most valuable resource and 55 percent indicated that they believe their employer treats them well.

DeSanto said training and development opportunities - a key driver of employee loyalty - won the approval of 55 percent of workers.

"It certainly is taken as a sign by workers that they are valued," he says.

Loyalty apparently has to be earned. Walker's survey found that only 29 percent of workers on jobs less than a year are loyal while 38 percent said they are likely to leave the company during that first year.

Walker attributes that to the mobility attitude that younger workers have. They might find happiness in a current job, but could still be exploring their next opportunity somewhere else.

"The message we are getting from the work force is that workers want to be loyal and many will be if they believe employers value them," DeSanto says.

This, he says, is the basis for mutual respect. Companies that count their employees as valuable resources will set themselves up for more efficient and profitable operations as the labor pool becomes more competitive.

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