Loyal to the last

From the past fortnight's events, you could be forgiven for thinking that the notion of loyalty is dead.

From the past fortnight’s events, you could be forgiven for thinking that the notion of loyalty is dead.

From the past fortnight’s events, you could be forgiven for thinking that the notion of loyalty is dead.

We’ve seen front-bench government MPs resigning on the eve of local elections, London tube workers crossing the picket line during last week’s strike, and Ronaldo leaving Manchester United.

In the business world, disloyalty does not come as such a shock. We may be disappointed, but we are not surprised to see employees leave for better-paid jobs or long-established customers switch to cheaper suppliers.

And yet sometimes it’s hard to shake that feeling of being personally betrayed, however irrational we know it is. We would like to think the relationships we have carefully cultivated in business mean something.

Hearteningly for the sentimentalists among us, there was one story in the news this week that suggested loyalty in business isn’t quite dead. Sussex-based Keyhole Security, which was about to go into administration last year, was saved by 11 of its employees offering to work without wages for two months. CEO Jason McCreanney showed his gratitude by agreeing to share ten per cent of the company’s net profits among staff.

Cynics might suggest that there was more than a hint of self-preservation about the staff’s offer to forgo their salaries. But there is always an element of enlightened self-interest in loyalty: we are loyal to the people or entities who pay us, protect us, or at least imbue us with a sense of belonging and self-worth.

Far from being a quaint myth, loyalty in business – or at least loyalty between companies and their staff – is the default setting. People naturally identify themselves with their employers: they may grumble about them, but they’ll fiercely defend them against slurs or criticism from a rival organisation.

Of course, this automatic sense of loyalty shouldn’t be taken for granted. It needs to be carefully nurtured, not by isolated team-building activities, but by consistently treating staff as grown-ups who are entitled to respect and consideration. No worker is going to offer loyalty unless they feel they are properly valued in return.

Small to mid-sized businesses, like Keyhole Security, have a headstart here, because employees are closer to the company’s top management (on the company’s website, McCreanney is pictured wearing the same blue uniform as the rest of his team). Larger, more faceless corporations require a more structured approach to foster a sense of belonging – although a really charismatic leader can help, engendering loyalty with a minimum of personal contact.

Admittedly, it’s going to be hard for an employer to triumph in a head-on conflict between corporate loyalty and self-interest. Fortunately such conflicts are rare, especially when you do your best to align the good of the company with the personal aspirations of your staff.

Nick Britton

Nick Britton

Nick was the Managing Editor for growthbusiness.co.uk when it was owned by Vitesse Media, before moving on to become Head of Investment Group and Editor at What Investment and thence to Head of Intermediary...

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