Loyalty – The Litmus Test

Written by Holtby Turner

As an executive search research lead, I continually evaluate employee loyalty in real estate. When a headhunter approaches, our data highlighted three push factors we call our Loyalty Litmus Test.

More often than not, the initial response when I cold-call a candidate is that they are happy enough where they are: they are not actively looking to move. But scratch beneath the surface of this job satisfaction and there are invariably some frustrations lurking, which any discerning headhunter knows can unravel into a tangled heap of dissatisfaction.

Understanding Push Factors 

‘Push factors’, as we call them, are personal and varied but tend to fall into one of three broad categories. The first is a lack of opportunities for development and career progression within the business. This is categorically the most popular reason I come across: I meet individuals who have outgrown their role and are in desperate need of a new challenge; those stunted by lack of opportunity for promotion; and those wanting to progress their career in a new direction entirely.

None of these is damaging for a company per se. It is a fact of the modern workplace that employees are driven by personal growth and development, and most successful business would know to expect about 10% churn. That said, it does need to be observed and carefully managed to avoid any unnecessary loss of talent.

No Progress, No Loyalty 

An employee might be happy in their team and prefer to stay, if only they could take on a new challenge or project, or be given more autonomy and responsibility. One of our candidates is now actively looking elsewhere, despite years of hard work and emotional investment in their current role. The reason? Lack of opportunity for progression.

“Loyalty only goes so far. There comes a point where the need to progress takes over – and if you’re not getting those opportunities where you are, then it’s time to move on.” Anonymous Candidate Feedback

Beware Bad Blood  

The second most common complaint I hear relates to poisonous politics and company culture, which exit interviews can help to address. I recently caught up recently with a former candidate, whom I successfully repositioned just a few months into their previous employment. I asked why they were receptive to my initial approach, and they confessed they were already unhappy in the role.

“There was a negative attitude engrained in the work environment, and a good deal of apathy from my colleagues. In every job there are ups and downs, but I didn’t see anything changing. Life’s too short: sometimes you have to go with how you feel and take the opportunities where you can get them.” Anonymous Candidate Feedback

Another of our candidates shared a similar account of joining a business riddled with organisational and management issues. “It was a frustration that grew,” they told me. “I wasn’t well-looked after from the beginning – just given a laptop and phone and left to fend for myself. I went into the role enthusiastically nonetheless, determined to make it work. But over the course of time it became increasingly difficult, and I had no support.”

“I would consider myself a loyal person, but loyalty is a two-way process: your employee needs to feel respected and valued the whole way through that process. And when the problems are so entrenched within a business, it just becomes a question of how long you stick it out.” Anonymous Candidate Feedback

Unfortunately, these experiences are by no means isolated events, and the reputations of certain market-leading organisations in the industry have been tarnished as a result.

The moral of the story for real estate? Beware bad blood within your business: it could prove extremely detrimental to your brand as an employer and the success of future hires.

Money Makes The World Go Round

The third and final reason people might consider a move is money. Although this is not normally why people leave, it’s almost always a factor, and most candidates will expect a reasonable uplift in salary from one role to the next. It is important for an employer to offer a competitive remuneration and benefits package, and the success of a search often hangs in the balance.

That said, talent can’t be bought. One candidate I approached decided to opt out midway through the interview process, despite uncertainty in their current role and lack of financial reward. “I love my work,” they told me. “I’m really happy and engaged doing what I’m doing – and even if that’s only for another six months to a year, then I’d like to stick it out.”

This attitude represents a seismic shift in employee behaviour. How will the modern employer keep their people engaged and retained within the business?

Is loyalty Outdated?

I threw these questions out to my candidates to see if they could offer any insight. “A couple of generations ago, companies were smaller and offered something to be loyal to,” one told me. “The workplace today is much more transactional – both for the employer and the employee. Jobs are less secure, and you know that if there’s a cull, they’ll chop you.”

“People need to feel part of something – like they’re working towards a common goal. It’s a matter of respect,” they suggested. “Work is a much more personal experience than it used to be. I think people invest more into their work these days, whether that’s in time or emotion. Therefore it’s important to feel valued and human.”

Loyalty is not the number of years accrued: it’s the success of the individual, their unique and valuable contribution to the business, and the legacy they leave behind.

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