Advocacy is the new employee loyalty

Posted on: March 27, 2024By: Maliyah Bernard

The average job tenure has dropped nearly 11% in the last decade

Perceptions about unconditional employee loyalty and what it means to stay with one company over an entire career are changing, according to SAP SuccessFactors Global HR Advisor Michael Esau in a recent conversation with Axonify’s JD Dillon, and it’s time for a fresh perspective on how to approach and drive employee loyalty.

Advocacy vs employee loyalty

Is it realistic to expect loyalty from employees?

With mass layoffs announced seemingly every other day, workplace stress at an all-time high and 1 in 3 companies planning to replace employees with AI in 2024, is it reasonable to expect employees to stay loyal?

Esau believes there’s still a case for employee loyalty in the current world of work, but its state is much more conditional and brittle.

“The problem at the moment is we’re in a vortex of change and so much disruption. There’s no getting away from it,” he says. “You’re going to impinge on how somebody’s feeling about your organization when it comes under stress; that’s human nature. How individuals determine what they do will vary depending on their circumstances.”

Esau also pointed to the mass exodus during the pandemic.

“We saw people leaving organizations through the pandemic without another job to go to. So they were making a determination: Is this the organization I wish to be part of, that I feel loyal to, yay or nay? And in many cases, it was, ‘No, I don’t.’ And I think that is going to continue now.”

“[Employee loyalty] is really brittle. It’s soft, and it’s easily going to break. But is it realistic? Yeah, you should aspire towards it.”

Michael Esau, Global HR Advisor, SAP SuccessFactors

The difference between loyal employees and employee advocates

Employees can be hardworking and reliable, but that doesn’t automatically mean they feel an emotional connection to their work or organization that will keep them working there until retirement. At least, not without knowing the business is committed to their growth and success and will follow through on promises made. 

Typical employee tenure sits around only around 4.1 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And turnover rates can be even higher in frontline-heavy industries like retail, hospitality and manufacturing. 

Esau affirms that loyalty isn’t just given. It needs to be a two-way street in the workplace—that’s how to start building up advocates who love what their team stands for, even after moving on to the next role or company.

“It’s part of our role to enable people to follow their dreams. At some point, they will leave us, and that’s okay as long as we’ve contributed. But hopefully, when they leave, they’ll look back and go, ‘Were they good for me? And was I happy?’ When that happens, you have the opportunity for that person to become an advocate.”

“That’s where the difference for me is between advocacy and loyalty. With loyalty, you support. But am I a proactive, vocal, animated champion? No, not necessarily. It’s different when you start to get into the world of advocacy. It’s the sentiment, the feeling that you have.

“We’re regularly asked two questions at SAP: Are you proud to work here? Is this a place that you would recommend to somebody else?”

Michael Esau, Global HR Advisor, SAP SuccessFactors

Make it easy for employees to advocate for your company—even after they’ve left

Having “North Star” value propositions communicated clearly and proactively to employees—especially regarding approaches to change management or how the company plans to navigate disruptors like the ones covered above—shows employees that their leaders are committed to them and their success.

“The organizations that don’t have a proposition and aren’t clear on their purpose are not winning. What’s happening is that they’re losing great people. Then, they can’t replace them,” says Esau. “Now that’s when you have a real problem.”

“When that proposition doesn’t materialize, guess what happens? I don’t believe you. I don’t feel connected to you. You’ve lost my loyalty now.”

Esau also suggests keeping a pulse on organizational health indicators that focus on how your people are feeling and performing, including:

  • Retention 
  • Absenteeism
  • Employee engagement

“Wouldn’t it be great if, when somebody leaves an organization, they’re an advocate for life? They’re going to champion you, talk positively about you, be part of your alums, become part of your PR machine. Why would you not want that?”

Michael Esau, Global HR Advisor, SAP SuccessFactors

Most people want to enjoy and be invested in their work; these are core aspects of a fulfilling career. However, employee advocacy won’t happen on its own; it happens by design. Harnessing the power of advocacy in your organization, especially if they’re doing great work for the organization and acting in ways that benefit the company, starts with making sure the investment is mutual.

Want to learn more about fostering employee advocates? Watch the full interview below:

Maliyah Bernard

Maliyah Bernard is an academic writer turned content writer. As a former frontline worker, she loves writing about all the ways organizations can support these essential workers smarter.