No, HR, Your Employee is not your Customer

For as long as I’ve been in HR, I’ve heard (or even said) that we [HR] should treat our employees like our customers. And I totally understand why. We want to treat our employees well: be attentive to their needs, respond to them in a timely manner, listen to their concerns and be sure they get the purchases they need (okay maybe not that last one). All things we want our employees to do for our customers.

For as long as I’ve been in HR, I’ve agreed. Until last summer at SHRM18. I was in Mary Faulkner’s session on being a strategic partner and something she brought up prompted me to tweet

Do we focus/see the big picture or are we too focused on the details? Are we thinking like a service provider? Do we only see our employees as “customers”? #LostInTranslation #SHRM18— Wendy Dailey (@wyndall93) June 20, 2018

And it opened up an awesome side conversation! How do we view our customers? What is that relationship? Just another transaction or more? And a lot of this probably depends on the nature of your business.

I don’t know if I want to think of our employees as customers, but until recently, I’m not sure I really articulated why. Then I started watching The Good Place (highly recommend you watch – but you HAVE to start at episode one, do not start in the middle). And in season 3, Eleanor sabotages her relationship with the group (an on-going theme) and she asks Simone why she does that. Simone explains that it may be rooted in evolutionary neuroscience (this show is so awesomely nerdy with real science!). We start with Me vs Us, a suspicion of all others. We then move to Us vs Them, a suspicion of everyone outside of our “group,” which explains racism, nationalism and why fans of Stone Cold Steve Austin hate the Rock and why angry Star Wars fans do anything. Eleanor is still at the Me vs. Us stage. For Employees & HR? [because yes, I do have a point] Us vs Them. HR is the “Other,” not part of our “Group.”

I feel like we perpetuate this idea when we say we want to treat our employees like customers, because customers are “Them.” They do not have a lot in common with employees. And this is okay. Our customers aren’t our employees, they have different goals when they interact with our business. We love them, we need them, but they are definitely not Us. But HR or management and employees? Um, yeah, we forget this a lot but HR and Management ARE employees. We all have the same policies and procedures to follow. We all are US.

I think that if we want to be truly seen by our employees as someone who is there for them, someone who is an ally of our employees, someone they CAN go to if they have concerns, we need to change how we talk about them. The relationship is more than that we have with customers. I don’t know that there is a good word that is a decent metaphor for that relationship. I would say it’s somewhere between friends and customers. 

I want to know what you think! Let’s discuss!!


2 thoughts on “No, HR, Your Employee is not your Customer

  1. Nancy Walker

    Great perspective Wendy! This has really made be think differently. I would suggest ready the article Is HR two faced? You betcha! It also talk a lot about the them vs us thought process!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. William Martin

    Most people when the talk about customer, are relating to external customers of your business. Don’t forget that nearly all businesses also have internal customers. Internal customers and external customers are different and are treated differently. (As they should be!)


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