Let's get this out of the way: Loyalty has absolutely nothing to do with length of employment.
Who is more loyal: the 20-year veteran employee who does just enough to get by, criticizes you and your company at work and in public, frequently and not so subtly undermines your decisions...or the employee who's been there six months, embraces where you want to go, and works his butt off every day to help you and your company get there?
Experience matters, but I'll take the six-month employee every time.
Loyal employees are loyal to your company. They work hard for their pay and are committed to your company's success. Loyal employees may someday leave, but while they work for you they do their best and often even put the company's interests ahead of their own.
Remarkably loyal employees hit the next level. They aren't just loyal to the company.
They're also loyal to you--even though their loyalty can be displayed in surprising ways.
Here are six qualities of remarkably loyal employees:
1. They treat you like a person.
Remember when you were in grade school and you ran into your teacher at, say, the grocery store? It was incredibly disconcerting. She wasn't supposed to exist outside of school. You didn't see your teacher as someone who wore shorts and had friends and wore a Grateful Dead T-shirt and actually had a life.
Your teacher wasn't a person; she was a teacher.
Lots of employees see their bosses that way, too. That means they don't see you as someone with dreams and hopes and insecurities and fears.
You're not a person; you're a boss.
Remarkably loyal employees flip the employer-employee relationship: They know you want to help them reach their professional and personal goals and that you want what's best for them--and they also want what's best for you, both at work and in your personal life.
They see you as more than just a boss, and they treat you that way.
2. They tell you what you least want to hear.
As a general rule, the more rungs on the ladder that separate you and an employee, the less likely that employee will be to disagree with you. For example, your direct reports may sometimes take a different position or even tell you that you're wrong. Their direct reports are much less likely to state a position other than yours.
And entry-level employees will sing directly from the company songbook, at least when you're the audience.
Remarkably loyal employees know that you most need to hear what you least want to hear: that your ideas may not work, that your point of view is off, that you made a mistake. They'll tell you because they know that though you may not care much for what you hear, you care tremendously about doing what is best for your company and your employees.
3. They never criticize you in front of others.
"Bash the boss" is a game almost every employee plays, at least occasionally. (One of your employees is probably talking about you right now.) Partly they criticize you because it's a way of letting off steam, but mostly they do it because we all think, at least some of the time, that we can do a better job than the person we work for.
Criticism, mocking, sniping--when you're in charge, they come with the territory.
They also chip away at the respect you work so hard to deserve.
Remarkably loyal employees get that. They don't gossip, they don't snipe, they don't talk behind your back--they give you the respect, even when you're not around, that they expect to receive.
4. They disagree in private.
Debate is healthy. Disagreement is healthy. Weighing the pros and cons of a decision, playing devil's advocate, sharing opinions--every leader wants to hear what his or her team thinks. It's not just enlightening; it's stimulating.
Remarkably loyal employees trust that they can share their opinions as freely as you do. In fact, they trust that you want them to--because you, and the company, benefit from an honest exchange of differing opinions and points of view.
But once a decision is made...
5. They totally support your decisions--and you--in public.
I guarantee you've been in at least one meeting where someone says, "Look, I don't think this is the right thing to do, but I've been told we're going to do it anyway. So let's at least give it our best shot."
After that little speech, does anyone ever give it their best shot?
Even when they disagree with a decision, remarkably loyal employees don't try to prove you wrong.
They do everything they can to prove you right.
6. They tell you when they need to leave.
I've never known a remarkably loyal employee that wasn't also just a plain-old remarkable employee. (Here's how to tell if an employee is remarkable.)
Because of that, you want them to stay. You need them to stay.
Still, sometimes they need to leave: for a better opportunity, a different lifestyle, to enter a new field, or to start their own business.
But they also know their departure will create a tremendous hole, so they let you know what they're thinking to give you plenty of time to prepare.
Granted, being willing to tell you well ahead of time that they plan to leave or are just thinking about leaving means they trust you to an exceptional degree. Clearly they know you won't start to treat them differently or fire them on the spot.
They trust you because they've been loyal to you. After all, they have put your interests ahead of theirs a number of times--and now they know you'll do the same for them.