How Can We Increase Loyalty in the Workplace?
Have you ever wondered that you can learn how to increase loyalty in the workplace from watching AMC’s hit television show, Breaking Bad?
If you haven’t watched a single episode, you have no idea what you are missing. Sure, all of the Breaking Bad fans out there are chuckling as I say this. I’d feel better if I told all of you who haven’t seen it yet, to go and watch seasons 1 through the first seven episodes of season 5 and then come back and read my post. It will make more sense afterwards. Don’t worry, it’s not going anywhere… except possibly viral.
Now that I have all of my Breaking Bad fans’ attention, we’re not here to discuss anything related to the specifics of Walter White’s interests of chemistry or making methamphetamine – my apologies in advance. Neither of them is my forte but I did find one aspect of Walt’s relationships that made my HR thinking cap overheat and that is loyalty.
After watching the series from the first episode until the most recent episode this past week (season 5 episode 7) in just two weeks’s time, I realized that us HR professionals could learn a lot from Walt, primarily from his exemplification of loyalty to his family and to his job. My goal here is to pinpoint examples and share some insight on how we can make a difference in improving employee loyalty in the workplace.
Loyalty: The problem?
Wikipedia defines loyalty as, “faithfulness or a devotion to a person, country, group or cause.” We associate loyalty with the relationships that we have in our lives and whether they are personal or business related, we can all agree that it is a catalyst that drives the strength of each relationship.
According to Metlife’s 10th Annual Study of Employee Benefits Trends report which was released in March 2012, only 42% of employees felt a strong sense of loyalty towards their employer. Given the history of this data, this level of loyalty is at a seven-year low. This unarguably has become a major issue in the workplace today and we are all trying to break the downward trend and find ways to increase its presence.
Loyalty: The Facts
From an article written on employee engagement and loyalty by Mary Helen Kress, she reviewed the 2012 Towers Watson Global Workforce Study. It concluded that 35% of employees are highly engaged. Kress then suggested that communication is the key factor that could improve employee engagement and thus increase employee loyalty to its employer. She also stated that communication between employees and their bosses must happen regularly and in various ways pertaining to the ever-growing diverse workforce.
In his August 7th Forbes article, Dominco Azzarello pinpoints certain characteristics in the workplace that help increase employee engagement and loyalty. He alludes to compensation and benefits as a primary engagement factor but the most pressing characteristics include: a strong sense of purpose, ample autonomy, opportunity for growth and a sense of affiliation.
Azzarello also concluded that when employees are engaged they are more likely to provide a better experience for customers. The more energy that the employees have, the more productive they become and with this increased productivity, they are able to create better products or services for customers. When they see that they are succeeding at this point, they are willing to stay long term. This in turn reduces company turnover and its related costs. On the customer side, their experience is very positive and it creates a passion in them. When filled with this passion, they buy more and often, stay a customer longer and further spread the word of the company’s products or services. With this engagement the company then grows and becomes more profitable and is then able to provide a better workplace for their employees – further increaseing employee loyalty.
In an August 12th Business Report article written by Vuyo Jack, he puts forth that three specific elements must be present at any purposeful job in order for an employee to find their purpose and consider their situation successful. These three aspects are passion, talent and a market. With these aspects, an employee would be able to keep a strong sense of loyalty to his/her employer:
- An employee must ignite his/her passion so that he/she can last through the ups and downs that come with the job.
- An employee must utilize his/her talents, skills and abilities to their fullest and with that they can feel a part of the team, contribute to their success, as well as learning new skills and strengthening their current ones.
- There also needs to be a market in order for an employee to base their passion on. When there is no market there is a greater risk that things may not work out and further increase the risk of personal poverty.
Loyalty and Walter White
I strategically picked one of the best Walter White clips from season 4, episode 6 in order to set the mood for explaining how Walt’s character provides further insight into loyalty in the workplace.
Sure, Walt self-proclaims himself “the danger” that his
wife, eh I mean whoever she is to Walt, Skyler is deeply concern about. Putting aside the aggressive transformation that Walt has gone through throughout the five seasons, we see a much notorious side of Walt right under our noses.
I have put together a list of 9 aspects of Walt’s character and relationships that teaches us about his loyalty to those he
relates associates with as well as his job.
- Communication – In order for there to be loyalty, there has to be strong communication. We’ve learned that so far in this post. However, Walt’s communication is challenging when it comes to his family. He doesn’t want to spill the beans about his job to his family primarily because he is the man of the house – the supporter – and with the burden of his lung cancer, he wants to make sure that his family will be set once he dies. This struggle shows a sense loyalty to his family and that he wants them to be safe and he will do whatever he can to make this happen. His communication with his partner, Jesse Pinkman is also important to point out. The relationship they have goes back to the teacher-student relationship we learn about early on. Once Walt finds him and talks him into getting into the meth business with him, they click to a certain extent. Walt is not afraid to point our Jesse’s wrongdoings and weaknesses at every opportunity. He does have strong and open communication with Jesse throughout the entire series and this helps keep Jesse engaged and unable to fully step away.
- Compensation and Benefits – Everyone wants to be well compensated for their services to a company. Walt is no different. He has a specific number in mind that would secure his family’s well being and he was not going to back down from that number. That fuels his motivation when he first starts out and keeps him engaged in his work and with Jesse so that not only he can obtain his goal but Jesse can be well compensated as well. This number comes into question between Walt and Jesse after Walt heres of his remission. He then slightly changes his perception of how his compensation affects his life and rightfully so, he leverages his highly sought after skills to increase his compensation and with that increases his loyalty to his job.
- Sense of Purpose – Walt’s main purpose in getting into the meth business in the first place is to provide a financial security for his family. This is the main purpose we hear him reiterate to Jesse when they first start working together. Through the series, Walt’s purpose changes as well. He finds himself battling his lung cancer (and winning) and sees that he’s going to be around a lot longer than he thought he would. He tries to make the most of his newly acquired interest and sets his sight on making as much money as possible. He essentially wants to feel that success – the success that fell through his fingers with Grey Matter. This makes Walt’s loyalty to his Jesse even stronger because he finds that Jesse is the only one that he can trust to help him succeed in achieving his financial goal.
- Ample Autonomy – Walt feels the need for independence once he starts working with Jesse. He blames the lung cancer for the times he runs away from his family several times to just “clear his mind”. This is strategic and also is a factor in his loyalty to his job. Even when he works for notorious drug lord, Gus Fling, owner of Los Pollos Hermanos, one of the fronts for his drug operation, he gets that feeling that he needs to have things go his way in order for his plan to work.
- Opportunity for Growth – There is a lot of growth that happens with Walt through the series. We see that he not only masters his trade but he also sees growth in Jesse. The duo sees a greater opportunity when Gus takes him on to cook. Walt sees the potential for further growth and it motivates him like wild fire. He knows that his product is the best on the market and that with Jesse’s partnership their potential is sky high. This motivated Walt to stay loyal to Gus as long as possible and to keep his business afloat as well as to Jesse to stick with him and to see the growth together. When push comes to shove, Walt does what he has to do by ousting whoever gets in the way of his plan.
- Sense of Affiliation – Walt being associated with Gus helps him to feel needed and appreciated and in the long run, helps him to obtain financial success and further growth from his experiences. He finds out Gus’ true colors and knows that at some point it’s not as healthy of a business relationship that he thought it would be and at that point further transformation occurs and it strengthens his loyalty with Jesse in order to develop a plan to oust Gus from his reigns.
- Passion – Chemistry is a passion of Walt’s. It is his life. He realizes that he can utilize his passion to help his family and so getting into the drug business, he is able to ignite a passion that can help achieve his goal of financially supporting his family once he is gone. His passion grows throughout his transformation and with that he becomes loyal to the business. In the video clip above, the fact that he is near yelling at Skyler about his importance to his job with Gus shows that he is passionate to succeed because after all it is all for his family. He has come to grasp that he is the danger that Skyler is worried about but Walt’s interpretation is that him being the danger will help him ultimately succeed in his goal of supporting his family.
- Talent – Walt discovers his knowledge, skills and abilities can be put to better use than teaching students and winds up taking an interest in teaching Jesse and helping him grow. Jesse is more familiar with the distribution side of the business and Walt sees that talent immediately. Once he feels comfortable with Jesse as his partner, Jesse learns the process and can eventually reciprocate when he goes to Mexico to supposedly work for the cartel. Displaying this trust in Jesse’s talent and growth helps both of them stay loyal to each other when obstacles come in their way.
- Market – Needless to say, the market for meth was wide open for the taking according to Walt, especially with his superior product. The market potential motivated Walt to keep Jesse on board given than with time, they would be more successful than either of them could imagine. Once Gus is no longer in the picture, Walt sees the market opportunity and that greed to be at the top of it all further contributes to his loyalty to his business and Jesse. He knows that Jesse is the key for his success but towards the most recent episodes in season 5, this loyalty seems to be breaking and we are not sure where it will go at this point. Walt, after all is in the “empire business” and not in the meth or money business. We will have to see how this loyalty plays out throughout the rest of the season.
As you can see, there are a lot of examples that help us realize just how loyalty plays into Walt’s life. I’m sure there are countless other examples that I haven’t touched upon. Feel free to sound off and comment below to keep the conversation going. After all, this show isn’t just about how a man deals with cancer and becomes involved with drugs; it dives deeper into how we can use examples from Walt’s transformation to better the loyalty we have in our lives with those who we care about as well as our jobs. Who knows, we may just learn something from his character and improve loyalty in our workplace. What do you think?