'I'll Work for Free' the Ultimate Employee Loyalty Test

Last Updated Jun 24, 2009 9:40 AM EDT

Creating value for customers depends on dedicated employees. Having an engaged, motivated, happy-at-work staff is a huge competitive advantage.

But how do you measure employee loyalty? British Airways is about to find out.

In response to the economy, the airline is asking workers to take an unpaid leave of absence for a month. Or, they can come in and work for free.

"How would this e-mail go over in your company?," asks Harvard Business School professor Frances Frei on her blog Decision to Lead. "What kind of relationship do you need to have with your employees for this message to be taken seriously?"

She expects quite a number of BA employees to take the company up on its offer to work for free, demonstrating that their devotion to the company extends to sharing the pain when adversity hits.

"Strong relationships with your employees may help to buffer you against an unforgiving competitive environment," Frei writes.

Are you so devoted to your company that you would work there for free?

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.