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Employee loyalty dropping off as workers question their value in organizations

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TORONTO - Employees increasingly expect to get more out of their jobs, and are more willing than ever to walk away from an employer if they feel undervalued or unfulfilled.

But while the first instinct of many bosses is to throw more money at the problem, a higher salary isn't always what disaffected workers are after.

"People often think it's just money, (but) pay is just one of the things the more sophisticated companies would look at," said David Sissons, vice president at Hay Group, a global management consulting firm.

Career and development opportunities, clarity of direction, purpose, work environment and work life balance will go a lot further to entice top talent to stay engaged in a workplace, he said, over a big pay cheque, free food or ping-pong tables at the office.

Lisa Delorme, co-founder and chief executive of Rent frock Repeat, spent 14 years working in a corporate setting with Education Management Corporation, Coca-Cola and Xerox, moving up the ranks and reaping many of the perks and benefits that come with senior positions.

But despite her achievements, Delorme couldn't fight the feeling that something was missing from her work life.

"I just wasn't enjoying the learning process anymore; I recognized that I had gotten very complacent," she said. "I still had some good challenges, but it wasn't enough."

She decided to team up with a friend to start her own company, which makes designer dresses available to rent for a fraction of the retail price, at her store and website, rentfrockrepeat.com.

Despite the challenges of running her own business and the lack of security that comes with that, Delorme, 43, says she can never see herself going back to her old jobs.

"I just wasn't stretching myself ... whereas the last three years have been kind of like going to university and getting my MBA times 100," she said.

Employee loyalty has always been a concern for companies, but it's an issue that's becoming more prevalent, given the amount of uncertainty that remains in the marketplace after the 2008 downturn and the recession, said Tina Dacin, a professor of strategy and organizational behaviour with the Queen's School of Business.

"Since 2008,with the economy in a downturn, the tenure of top people in organizations is actually going down," she said.

"There's huge amount of turnover (and) a lot of the high-potential programs that organizations put in place are not actually delivering because ... by the time people get to the end of the program, the job has often changed."

Employees at all levels also expect more for working in a connected world where they are expected to be available 24 hours a day, said Dacin.

And as the recession hangover begins to pass and job confidence increases, overburdened or disaffected employees also see more opportunity to be mobile.

"People don't really expect a job for life anymore, so ... if they see an opportunity that's a better fit, then they're going to take it," said Shannon Young, human resources manager with Randstad Canada, a leading HR and recruiting firm.

"We're actually seeing across all levels that employees are taking more of a free agent approach, they're taking control of their own careers and seeing themselves as their own managers."

A recent Randstad study found that although more than half of Canadian employees said they had the perfect job, 65 per cent would leave for more money, to improve their career opportunities or if they found a job that was a better match with their educational background.

That's why it's important to be proactive and find out what your top employees are looking for before they've called it quits, Young said.

"Don't wait until people leave to find out that they wanted to be a manager," she said.

"Have conversations early and often with your people, especially key people, to .... figure out what they want and then make sure they know that you're committed to help them get there."

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Follow @maurinor on Twitter.

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