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Apr 28, 2022
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

HRDs are often taught that retaining staff is paramount. It seems especially important right now, amidst the so-called ‘Great Resignation’ (which, let’s face it, is not-so-great, is it?)

But should retention really be coveted as such a great thing? According to Danny Speros, VP of people operations at TriNet Zenefits, the answer is not always. He’s an advocate of so-called ‘short-term loyalty’.

To explain why he sat down for an exclusive Q&A with TLNT:

TLNT: HRDs are often told to foster long-term loyalty. Are you suggesting long-term loyalty is not as good as it’s cracked up to be? 

Danny: “It’s definitely great to have employees that have been there for a long time. The deep knowledge, expertise, and relationships that longer-term people possess can lead to strong results. But the notion you should stay at one firm your whole life has passed. These days, even five-plus years is considered long-term by many, and the feeling is probably mutual. High retention is something companies will always love to boast, but there is a massive amount of change going on within the workforce, as well as shifting expectations about what employment means for workers. Careers aren’t linear. I know we always talk about climbing up the career ladder, but I have yet to find a single, direct ladder that took me from where I started to where I am today. Most careers don’t follow that direct ladder anymore. It’s all part of the journey. It’s all about what people want to achieve for themselves and how the work they do will get them there.

TLNT: Why are you suggesting employers embrace short-term loyalty? 

Danny: I’m suggesting employers embrace short-term loyalty for two reasons. Firstly, it’s happening anyway; and secondly, it can bring fresh energy and ideas into an organization. We’ve got to remember that the world of work is changing. As of 2020, typical employee tenure had shortened to four years, and it’s even shorter now. Shorter loyalty is going to happen whether employers embrace it or not, so it’s just a matter of how we approach it. New employees are excited about new opportunities, so in my opinion, we should take advantage of that early passion. For however long it lasts it is valuable. But 55% of new employees are already planning to leave within the next 12 months, so hiring employees that may be short-term is unavoidable. Given this we, as HR professionals, have to roll with it and welcome the positives that come from a short-term worker. Remember, someone leaving isn’t all that bad. It opens an opportunity for internal promotion or to hire someone from the outside. Either way, the person who fills that position will be excited, will bring a new set of eyes to issues and opportunities, and it gives organizations a chance to increase diversity across backgrounds and experiences.

TLNT: How ‘short’ is short-term?

Danny: I don’t think there is a rigid timeline of how short short-term loyalty can be. But with the way the workforce is today, we have to realize that sometimes getting to work with someone for a short time is better than nothing at all. If someone were to join a team, work there for a year, and were able to make an immediate impact on the profitability, even if they left then they would still have benefited the business because something positive came from that interaction. With remote work, there is a whole new talent pool and leaders have to be ready to tap into it if short tenures are a regular occurrence at their organization.

TLNT: What about those who will say it costs money to keep hiring new people into the same job time and time again. Isn’t longer-term loyalty worth it to save re-hiring? 

Danny: It’s a fact that when someone leaves, someone else has to pick up the slack, and it affects the entire organization. It’s this cyclical effect that can put a burden and risk of burnout on everyone else who stays. But long-term loyalty is only beneficial when workers are engaged and motivated. Having someone who works the same job for five years, but hasn’t been promoted or doesn’t have any drive to move forward can cause problems. It’s not just about how many years someone works at an organization, but how much of an impact they have made, and how much they have grown professionally. If someone were to work at an organization long-term, and put in the bare minimum, this could actually cause harm to the overall growth and productivity of the organization. Sure, the cost of losing employees can be significant, but the mentality of work has shifted to how the business can serve employees. It’s up to the company to unlock these true motivators and use them to connect with employees.

TLNT: If employers accept short-term loyalty, does it mean they don’t need to work so hard at being great employers? 

Danny: I think we should always aim for people to stay. Turnover should never be a goal, but rather something we understand and expect. That said, if people are given excellent benefits and perks that they can’t find anywhere else, that often does make them want to stay. One thing I like to do when conducting stay interviews is to ask people what they’d change if they had a magic wand. As much as this can be a fantastical and light-hearted question, it gives people the opportunity to really share what they are doing. It is also symbolic of an environment that is open to feedback. Work is now a people-driven economy and organizations need to pivot quickly because if not, they will continue to be affected by The Great Reshuffle.

TLNT: How do HRDs justify still looking after people that won’t stay to an FD or CEO?

Danny: Provide some context. If you are aware that someone won’t be on board for the long term, verbalize what stuck out about them. But also verbalize why you, the HRD, thought this person was worth hiring in the first place. Whether it’s their valuable past experience, their excited attitude, or their passion for the job, employees can make a lasting impact on an organization in a very short period of time.

TLNT: Are some sectors more likely to experience short-term loyalty?

Danny: Yes, in service jobs the tenure is often shorter and short-term loyalty can be seen as a plus. We’ve seen over the course of the past two years how service workers have demanded more respect, more benefits and pay. This was a paradigm shift for employers working in service industries, but it can still cause the same HR headache for business owners who are worried about finding quality talent in the midst of high turnover rates.

TLNT: Without loyalty, what are organizations though?

Danny: Organizations are a product of their people. Whether those people stay or go doesn’t play as big of a role as we sometimes think. A business is not defined by how “loyal” their employees are. In fact, I’d argue it borders on a toxic mindset, implying one should blindly follow the company through anything. People can contribute plenty to an organization without building it from the ground up. The relationship between organizations and their people is a two-way street.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.