4 Proven Ways to Inspire Employee Loyalty

Years ago, "loyal" employees stayed with their employees for years. Not any longer. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median duration of employment is 4.6 years. That number is even lower for service-oriented industries such as food preparation. As a business owner, it probably comes as no surprise to you that these days, employee loyalty is not really about how long they stay. It's about encouraging positive behavior for the time employees earn a paycheck at your shop, regardless of how long they're with you.

To improve loyalty, many business owners focus on tangible benefits, like paid sick days and health club membership, to lure employees through their doors. That's a great start, but don't forget the intangibles as well: those low-cost (or even free!) actions that business owners should take on a daily basis to ensure that employees are satisfied and productive. The most successful small businesses are those that have owners who invest in these four loyalty-building activities.

1. Show your faith in employees' abilities

Nothing boosts morale like telling someone, "I believe in you." My experience as a frontline manager and a small business owner has taught me this: Place your trust in people, and they will rise to the occasion. Even your most talented staff members have a small amount of insecurity. They want to please and they're good performers – they just need the occasional pep talk to let them know you are in their corner.

2. Support your employees—no matter the circumstance

Nobody wants to get thrown under the bus. As a business owner, your mantra should be, "We're in this together." When you let employees know you have their back, they are more likely to try new things. They're also less likely to fib or lay blame on others if mistakes are made. This mindset also sets a great example for teamwork. So the next time there's a breakdown in communication, say, "I'm not interested in blaming anyone. I'm interested in figuring out the problem and making sure it doesn't happen again."

3. Express your appreciation

"Acknowledging good performance and expressing ap-preciation are the leading drivers of loyalty in employer/employee relationships," says Timothy Keiningham executive vice president at Ipsos Loyalty, a firm that specializes in loyalty research. What makes praise successful? Its specificity. Don't just say, "Great job, thanks!" Tell your team members exactly why their actions were helpful. Did they go the extra mile to help a customer? Did they handle a grumpy co-worker without com-plaining? Say, "You're really great at ______" or "I really appreciated how you __________" to build allegiance.

4. Provide inspiration

Let's face it, sometimes life at work just plain stinks. Maybe revenues are down or a valued employee gets critically ill. When tough times hit, it's up to you as the business owner to act as a beacon of hope. When you assure your team that you'll all get through to the other side of the troubling times, it helps people focus and stay calm. Communicate a message that conveys, "We'll get through this" and your staff will reward you by sticking around for when better times show up.

Whether your employees stay with you for six months or 16 years, you want their loyal-ty. These four actions will help you foster teamwork and loyalty for your growing busi-ness to thrive.

Jennifer V. Miller

A freelance writer who covers leadership, emerging trends in the workplace and careers. In 2014, Inc. Magazine's Jeff Haden listed her as one of "100 great leadership speakers and business thinkers." Get tips on how to better lead yourself and others at Jennifer's award-winning blog, The People Equation.