Five reasons employees are like consumers – and what to do

Five reasons employees are like consumers – and what to do

August 2, 2017 | Rob Catalano

As originally posted on in Aug 2015

A few weeks back, I had the pleasure of speaking on a webinar with Professor Nick Kemsley, Co- Director of the Henley Business School Centre for HR Excellence on how talent is more ‘consumer-like’ than ever.  Professor Kemsley discussed fascinating research recently conducted around this topic.

It resonated with me because even though I’ve been in the HR space for a decade, I’m a marketer by trade. I can appreciate the way we treat consumers and how we SHOULD be treating employees similarly.


Why are employees more like consumers today?

Professor Kemsley discussed main reasons why we should see employees as consumers:

  1. Rise in portfolio thinking – employees are thinking long-term and building a portfolio for future positions. Gone are the days when employees joined companies for life.
  2. Low barriers to switching – LinkedIn ushered in the era of socially recruiting the passive candidate It’s made it easier for employees and employers to find each other. Crossing borders isn’t an issue either as it’s much easier to relocate these days.
  3. Skills Shortage – employers are getting more aggressive in poaching your people. Talent is where smart companies are investing to grow a successful business. Start with who, then what.
  4. Personal brand equity – many people wear brand name clothing and drive cars as a status symbol. The employee résumé or current logo beside their profile is important for their personal brands and for landing that next gig.
  5. Changing attitudes toward work and needs – for some consumers, the products they associate themselves with are more than products. It’s about having an aligned purpose or a shared belief with the brand. People want more than a job, they want a calling that aligns with organizational purpose. Many are even willing to be paid less to attain it. This is important because we have to change our approach to employee engagement and retention to impact a new type of employee in a new work environment. Ask yourself if you’re really engaging the NEEDS of the new employee?


What can your company do about it?

Even though we say employees are our most important assets, it’s clear that we invest much more in customers than employees. Gartner forecasts by 2018 the investment globally in Human Capital Management systems versus Customer Relationship Management systems will be $11B and $41B, respectively. Four times less for employees. The mindset needs to change.

Here are five things to consider changing in your approach to engaging these new “consumers”:

  1. Look outwards – change your HR approach to look outwards towards the employee, not inwards towards “Core HR”. Ask yourself how many major initiatives in the last three years were really providing value to employees, versus value predominantly to your HR department (yes, that recent HRIS implementation too).
  2. Get transformational, not transactional – if your engagement practices are a set of activities or targets based on a survey, then they’re reactive and transactional. To be transformational you need a deep belief in the power of people to contribute. You need to champion the fact that employees are integral to delivering business strategy.
  3. Your strategy must impact employees daily – consumers are fickle and expect great products and service, instantly. Annual initiatives and programs won’t work. People work in days and hours, not quarters or years.
  4. Engage managers – managers often get overlooked, but they’re employees too. Too often, they’re not ready for management and don’t have the skill set or experience. Make managers part of the process of developing the strategy and enacting it with individuals.  Managers have more impact on changing the organization positively than leaders or executives.
  5. Get “employee-specific” – “one size fits all” doesn’t work for consumers and it won’t for employees either.  Think about how you ignore mass-marketing pushes  – your employees are no different.  There needs to be a genuine interest in the individual employee.

We have a lot to learn from how we approach consumers in a sales and marketing sense. That’s how we should be listening to and understanding employees. Frequent and personal employee dialogue is what will make the difference, not the broad-based approach.

As a consumer, you only really pay attention to messages that are relevant to you.

Ask if your current approach is capturing employee attention?


Rob Catalano

Rob Catalano

Rob Catalano is WorkTango’s Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer. Rob has spent the last 17 years building HR Technology companies.