Your not-so-loyal servant

14 August 2023

Recently on the tablet of wisdom that is LinkedIn, a coach/consultant asked the people of LinkedIn to vote on whether managers should be rewarded for retaining staff.

The people responded – by not voting!  Probably taken aback at being asked to consider whether managers would have it in their power to do this.

Because retention is much more nuanced than good management.

Yes, people say you join a company and leave a manager.  But you might leave a manager because you’ve been offered £10k more.  Or HR didn’t give you the promotion you wanted.  Or you want to test yourself in another company.  Or you’ve come to distrust the leadership of the organisation.  Little of which is in the power of your immediate manager.

Recently we conducted a focus group with a room of employees at a company’s offices in the UK.  The group were volunteered – as nobody had volunteered to spend their time with a couple of communications consultants on the train from London.  (I didn’t blame them!!)

The purpose of the focus group was to establish what motivated them to come into work, but also what they thought about the wider business (beyond their team and location), how communication could be improved and what they thought of the leadership.  We knew already there were some trust issues, but what we found was something more fundamental.

We found what can be likened to a form of workforce PTSD.

Here were a group of people with a real sense of loyalty to their team members and their immediate managers, but no sense of loyalty to the greater organisation.  In part, this was driven by decisions made by leaders; but it also came from personal experiences of redundancies and corporate rejection in other organisations.

It didn’t mean they were any less proud of the work they did – and they would never admit that they put in any less effort.  However, any comms coming out of the centre was either ignored or criticised – no matter how good the intention.  It was clear that if another job came along, many would have few qualms about entertaining that option.

Once trust is eroded, it is very difficult to rebuild – and especially if leaders don’t recognise the issue and embrace it whole-heartedly.  And if people have felt rejection before, will that affect how much they trust the leaders of their next employer?  Just like a spurned lover, trusting a partner again is not always easy.

In these circumstances, it is not the big gestures that count; but the small and consistent steps towards building trust.

Turning up (consistently), listening, answering questions, showing empathy, being honest – many of the things that aren’t glamorous and don’t fill leaders with a sense of their own importance; but show a commitment to the team and individual.

Those who have hadn’t had such toxic experiences in the corporate world may not be as loyal as we might imagine, either.  Because sometimes, pay and opportunities within one business don’t keep up with what you can get by moving organisations.  Even in law, where people often stay at one firm for decades, chasing the dream of partnership, there’s a sense today that moving pays off – both money and career-wise (according to a recent survey).

Loyalty is of course not the same as Retention.  You can be loyal, but decide to leave.  You can stay, but not out of to a sense of loyalty.

So why is loyalty important?  People and teams will come together to support and combine; they will have each others’ backs; and they will want to do the best job possible for each other (more than anyone else).

They are not just doing it because they want food and rations, like my dog.

Picture Credit: my dog, Poppy.  Pure click-bait.


Written by Henry Davies, Founder


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