Redefining ’Loyalty’ in Search of Great Candidates

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Every organization wants loyal employees, but such employees seem difficult to find in the employment market.

To make matters worse, you can’t identify loyalty by looking at a resume, and there’s no candidate out there who wouldn’t describe themselves as “loyal” during an interview.

Perhaps what makes finding loyal candidates difficult is that many employers are operating with an incorrect definition of loyalty.

At first glance, loyalty seems definable by the length of a person’s employment: If they’ve been with the same company for 15 years, they must be loyal. The truth is that loyalty is something else altogether.

Loyalty Can’t Be Measured in Numbers

According to Jeff Haden  of Inc., “Loyal employees are loyal to your company. They work hard for their pay and are committed to your company’s success. Loyal employees may someday leave, but while they work for you they do their best and often even put the company’s interests ahead of their own.”

Haden makes an important distinction between loyalty and the length of one’s tenure. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, but they aren’t synonymous, either. An employee with twenty years in their current job might be a slacker who complains about their boss and badmouths the company. On the other hand, an employee of six months might be committed to the success of the company and the well-being of their entire team.

To identify loyal employees, you’ll need to wait for their loyalty to show up in their daily routine – or uncover their loyalty during the interview.

Loyalty Shows Up in Day-to-Day Actions

Loyalty can only truly be seen in the actions of a person on the job – actions like coming in on short notice when the company really needs them.

A workplace environment that fosters community and a sense of belonging is an environment that promoters loyalty. Thomas Lee, professor of management at the University of Washington, says fitting in is an important factor in making employees want to stay in their jobs.

An employee who fits in culturally is more likely to stay with a company and express authentic loyalty. One study found that turnover rates can drop by as much as 30 percent when a department’s environment aligns with the company’s overall culture and values.

handsLoyal Employees Are Looking for Something Worthy of Their Loyalty

Loyal people don’t take just any job. They want to know their efforts will be appreciated. They often look for jobs not based on salary, but on what the company stands for, how it operates, and how it treats customers. Loyal people, in short, look for companies worthy of their loyalty.

One quality many loyal people look for is transparency. Organizations that are upfront about their cultures, values, products, and services tend to attract more loyal employees than those that are not.

Don’t Overemphasize a Candidate’s Length of Employment

Aside from the fact that length of employment doesn’t denote loyalty, there are other reasons to avoid focusing on the length of someone’s employment when making hiring decisions.

Some employees love their jobs and wouldn’t trade them for the world. Others, however, simply stick to a job because it’s comfortable and they’re not interested in new challenges. The only way to tell the difference is to start digging.

There are six factors to focus on  when determining why a candidate stayed at the same job for so long. If you’re looking for a leader who fearlessly conquers any challenge, you’ll need to ask how your candidate has been challenged over the course of their job. If you’re looking for someone to focus on one task and master it, you’ll need to ask questions about the value they candidate has added to their team over the years.

The most important questions, however, will be those that provide insight into the candidate’s relationships with their employers and coworkers. Loyal candidates aren’t necessarily best friends with their workmates, but the quality of their relationships with their colleagues should matter to you.

Listen intently when a candidate shares their experiences. Did they leave on good terms? Did they finish out their two weeks’ notice? People don’t change their patterns easily, and you can expect them to treat you the same way they’ve treated other employers.

Hiring an authentically loyal employee who leaves after just a few years is more valuable than hiring an employee who sticks around for 20 years performing mediocre work and complaining.

Anna Johansson is the founder and CEO of Johansson Consulting. Follow her on Twitter  and LinkedIn.

By Anna Johansson