Loyalty among Asian employees no longer valued, but it should

It appears that hirers in Asia-Pacific don't regard long-term loyalty and retention as a critical component in their talent strategy, prompting questions over how these organizations ensure their long-term survival in the market.

"Never push a loyal person to the point where they no longer give a damn."

I've seen that quote making its round on LinkedIn recently and it got me wondering about what would encourage workers to stay in — or leave — an organization, and whether employee loyalty is even commonplace today. 

Japan, for one, is widely known for its loyal workforce — at least, it was once. Commonly described as shushin-koyo or "lifetime employment", this culture of undying company loyalty emerged in the 1920s when major Japanese organizations recruited university graduates and promised lifetime job security and benefits as a way to retain talent. In return, employees worked hard and pledged strong loyalty to their company.

Amid the long economic recession over the past decade, however, many businesses began implementing mass layoffs. With job security no longer guaranteed, few subscribed to the practice of shushin-koyo.

Indeed, as more and more companies across the globe today regularly roll out staff layoffs numbering in the thousands, offering little assurance of job security, they have little right to demand loyalty from employees who no longer feel they'll be justly rewarded if they gave their blood and sweat to the company.

In fact, it appears that staff loyalty is no longer highly valued among hirers in Asia. 

According to SAP's Workforce 2020 survey conducted by Oxford Economics, just 27 percent of executives in the Asia-Pacific region considered long-term loyalty and retention as a critical component in their talent strategy, despite the fact that 82 percent hired mostly full-time workers. Only 11 percent viewed leadership potential as an important trait in employees, compared to the global average of 21 percent. 

The study polled more than 5,400 executives and employees across 27 countries including China, India, Japan, and Malaysia. Its global stats were  discussed in a previous ZDNet post  by SAP's global vice president of strategy for cloud, Sven Denecken.

Adaire Fox-Martin, SAP's president for Asia-Pacific and Japan, said in the report: "As the influx of young, ambitious employees join the workforce across Asia-Pacific, it is critical for companies to recognize that their talent management practices and policies will need to evolve."

That loyalty placed low in priority for hirers should be a worry, especially since executives worldwide pointed to a  lack of employee loyalty as the biggest obstacle  to their company's ability to meet strategic workforce goals. 

Do they not value it because they know it's tougher now to gain it, or do they prioritize productivity and more tangible returns on investment from each hire above loyalty? 

Either way, organizations that see little value in it are failing to realize that without their staff's allegiance, they risk losing their relevance in the market. If employees aren't invested in a company, they won't feel any commitment in sustaining its long-term growth. 

In a recent commentary, Human Workplace CEO and Founder Liz Ryan discussed how loyalty is a two-way street, where companies can easily gain their employees' allegiance if they gave it back. "I understand why employees are loyal to bosses and organizations that treat them like valued collaborators. I worked for a company like that for 10 years and remember what it's like to know that your company has your back." 

In short, Ryan said: "Your job is to do your best work every day. Your boss's job is to give you a reason to come to work tomorrow."

But with job security no longer a viable option today, how then can organizations encourage their best employees to stay?

As Ryan highlights, the new generation of working Millennials don't expect guarantees of lifetime employment. Rather, they seek more fundamental basics like transparency and honesty. 

The Workforce 2020 study also found that 46 percent employees in Asia-Pacific identified opportunities for career development as the most important component in ensuring their loyalty and engagement in a company. Some 45 percent pointed to more comprehensive staff benefits, while 44 percent cited higher compensation as critical factors to boosting their loyalty. 

Above all, however, companies must first recognize the value of loyalty — for without it, there is little reason their employees will fight to ensure the organization succeeds in the market.