Today, people in their 20s change jobs every two years. This frustrates employers, who say, “Why should I hire someone who is going to leave? I need someone who is loyal.”
At the same time, employees look at the work they are given and say, “How can I spend my days doing work that doesn’t mean anything to me?”
Ironically, the way to make your work more meaningful is to be more loyal. This doesn’t mean you can’t quit in three months. It means that you have to be loyal while you are there. And in this way, the idea of workplace loyalty is changing: Loyalty is not dead, but you have to ask yourself, what are you loyal to?
It’s a great job market for young people today. Among college graduates the unemployment rate is less than 2 percent. The problem is finding meaningful work. But this task doesn’t need to be as hard as people make it.
You don’t need to be saving lives. You need to work at a place that contributes to your core needs, in a way that gives you the opportunity to express passions in significant ways.
One of the most common ways of finding meaning at work is through personal development. “Loyalty as a function of time is a dated idea,” says Jaerid Rossi, process engineer at Specialty Minerals of Canaan, Conn. “Work is only appealing if there’s constant learning.”
But loyalty is a layered concept, and for many this includes the power of a company’s brand.
“Organizations are not a source of security but they are a source of identity,” says Bill Taylor, cofounder of the magazine Fast Company and coauthor of the book, Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win.
So find a company that you want to attach your identity to.
In this way, you are searching for a company that deserves your loyalty. Its brand will be in line with your own values and the image you have of yourself. For example, Steve Rubel runs the blog Micro Persuasion, but he is also an employee at Edelman, a public relations agency that has an image of being forward thinking about technology. Edelman adds a nice element to Rubel’s identity so it makes sense that Rubel would be loyal.
“Edelman’s success online reaffirms in peoples’ minds that I’m with a company whose values I share,” he says.
Loyalty doesn’t always satisfy image-building, though. For instance you can be loyal to a cause, such as the examples cited by Taylor: “People at ING Direct really feel like they are bringing some sense of sanity to an increasingly insane consumer finance culture. In Mavericks at Work, people are loyal to what they want to do in the world. For example, most people at Netflix are true movie fanatics and they believe popular entertainment is better in America because of Netflix.”
If you want to help homeless kids, you can work at many different types of organizations that fight homelessness, and while you might not feel huge dedication to a particular organization, your enthusiasm to the cause will keep you loyal to the work. You can carry your loyalty from company to company.
Taylor explains that “People can [also] be loyal to a cause or to a technology. For example, they think Ajax is the greatest software in the world. They can also be loyal to colleagues and team.”
The common thread in all this loyalty, though, is being part of something bigger than yourself. You cannot give up everything for your company, but being loyal to nothing is equally disconcerting.
“People are their best when they have obligations not only to themselves, but to other people as well. People do their best work when they identify themselves as part of a team or a project.”
Rossi echoes this sensibility: “For me, the services a company provides must somehow be beneficial to the employees and the community around it. I need to understand what the company’s goals are and I need to share that vision.”
What can employers do to attract new loyalists? Find a mission that they believe in. If they don’t believe in it, they’ll never be able to convince other people. And remember that people can feel affiliated to an organization without having to work 70 hours a week.
In fact, some of the most loyal employees are those whose company arranged working situations to accommodate very strong loyalties such as family or athletic endeavors. Even a company that has little mission to speak of can gain extreme loyalty from employees by easing the employee’s individual mission. Among Microsoft loyalists, for example, are those who rely on its outstanding insurance coverage for children with autism.
So figure out your needs and passions, and cast a wide net for the company that could fill them. You’d be surprised at the number of companies that can make you feel like work is meaningful. Similarly, employers will be surprised at the intense loyalty there is to be had from this generation of job hoppers.