- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 20, 2005

Employee loyalty among U.S. workers has reached a six-year high, says a national study released today.

The percentage of loyal employees — those committed to their companies and planning to stay for at least two years — is 34 percent, up four points since 2003 and 10 points since the first Walker Loyalty Report in 1999.

Part of the reason for the upswing is a slowing job market after the deflation of the 1990s technology bubble, said Chris Woolard, an employee loyalty specialist for Walker Information, a business research and consulting firm in Indianapolis.

Also, employers are changing their expectations of workers, Mr. Woolard added.

“You used to expect maybe one to two companies in your career. That’s not the case anymore,” he said. “Most people change their job every three or four years. So I think that relationship is now shifting.”

The biennial report compares the percentage of loyal employees with trapped employees — those not committed to their employers but planning to stay anyway — and high-risk employees — those neither committed to the company nor planning to stay.

The percentages of trapped employees and high-risk employees were both down three points this year from 2003, at 28 percent and 31 percent, respectively.

Six percent of employees were reported to be “accessible,” or committed to their employers but planning to leave the company for personal reasons.

The report is the result of feedback from 2,526 employees nationwide, 18 or older, working in companies with at least 50 people. The data were weighted against June 2005 Bureau of Labor employment statistics.

Loyalty equals productivity for Patty Ayars, senior vice president for human resources and corporate communications at Roche Diagnostics in Indianapolis. After implementing an employee survey five years ago to reduce turnover, Ms. Ayars’ company was named this year to Fortune magazine’s list of 100 Best Companies to Work For.

“Increasing employee loyalty is important to us because it is a business strategy,” Ms. Ayars said.

Roche employees fill out a Walker Information survey every 18 months. In response to feedback, the company established training and development programs for employees at all levels. It has cut the employee turnover rate in half since 2000.

“The No. 1 rule in surveys is don’t do them unless you plan to follow up,” Ms. Ayars said.

The biggest challenge employers face is winning over the least loyal members of the work force: the youngest and newest employees, Mr. Woolard said.

“Organizations want to get that young blood in there, but they’re also the most high-risk,” he said. “There’s really a lot of money that’s being wasted with these people turning over in the first year or two.”

Among the report’s key findings, 48 percent of respondents say their companies are employee-focused, 54 percent feel they have opportunities to develop their skills and 59 percent say they are satisfied with their salaries and benefits. About 58 percent of employees think their senior leaders are ethical.

If employers can focus on only one factor to improve employee loyalty, it should be providing opportunities for training and career development, Mr. Woolard said.

“A lot of employers still see training and development as a cost, as an expense, not an investment,” he said.

“They tend to focus on financials and customers and tend to forget about employees, who really drive those two factors.”

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