In today’s world, with the average job length of approximately three years, employees will have close to 15 jobs in their career. We hear that there is no such thing as employer/employee loyalty anymore. Let’s face it; no one stays with the same job 30 years and gets a gold watch at retirement. Global competition has changed the game forever. For employees, that means zero job security; they’re always waiting for the axe to fall (especially in a lousy job market). And for employers, it’s harder and harder to find and hang onto good employees. As soon as you train them—they’re looking for greener pastures. So how can we bridge that divide?
I think the key lies in revamping the employee-employer relationship. Employers have to understand that the “buyer’s market” they’re in right now will not always be the case, and even if it is, that attitude is no way to build brand loyalty that can go well beyond time on the job. If you want to build a winning team that stays with you, advocates for you and helps you get ahead as a company, you have to treat that team with respect. Treating employees like a commodity and/or a cost center eventually backfires because it leads to constant turnover, which is counterproductive in the long term.
Start thinking of your employees as an investment instead. If you look out for them and help them when they need it, they’ll be there for you when you need them. It can be as simple as creating a nurturing workplace that encourages growth and innovation, versus a culture of fear fostered by so many companies today.
There’s an old saying in networking circles that in order to receive, you have to give first—and do so without expectation of anything in return. It’s called the “giver’s gain” philosophy. Doing for others without expecting anything directly in return always brings good things back to you.
One company that truly “gets” this concept is American Express. I heard recently from a number of people that American Express downsizes with dignity whenever the situation arises. They support those going through the transition and allow them 60 days to continue working in their offices and pursue other opportunities, relieving the stress that always comes with a change of employment. So how do you think those employees felt about their employer, and how did those feelings ripple through their personal communities of friends, family and future employers? I know American Express has experienced lots of giver’s gain by helping downsized employees make a smoother transition.
Want more advocates? Help your employees “be social.”
Another way employers can benefit from helping their employees is by recognizing the fact that social connection is an integral part of all of our lives now. Remember that in today’s social world, every person has an extended circle of personal influence and an opportunity to build their own personal “brand.” By helping your employees build that brand rather than squelching individuality, you could build an army of very powerful advocates. Most people, when given the opportunity, will advocate for their brands, when they feel good about where they work.
Some companies still fear the “socialization” of the workplace, but locking your employees out of all personal social channels while at work is a big mistake. It only forces your employees to break your rules. They end up looking at their iPhones under the table. Ever wonder why smoking breaks have gone up so much over the last two years? It’s not because more people are smoking, it’s because they’re going outside to look at their smart phones! Banning employees from using social in the workplace only forces them to use it on a different screen—when they could be more productive, be aware of daily social trends, and advocating for your brand rather than griping about you on their personal platforms.
Why not educate them instead? Let them know you’ll help them build their own personal brand, and if they want to talk about your company—great—but don’t make it a prerequisite. Create a social policy that embraces your employees’ personal brand and give them guidelines on what’s appropriate to share about your company. Help them tweak their privacy settings—give them photos to share—create some company-specific hashtags and make it easy for them to find content and use it when/if they want to. Unleash your employees and encourage brand advocacy beyond your own social platforms.
If we want our companies to prosper in the digital age, we have to be more proactive in attracting and nurturing good employees. That means we have to start thinking more about connecting with them as human beings and advocates, and stop thinking of them in terms of costs and liabilities. In short, if you build them up, support them and add value to their lives, the relationships you build with your employees will pay dividends well beyond the value of their salaries. Unleash the power of giver’s gain personally and socially, and great things will happen.