Let’s get straight to the point – if money is the only reason for your employees to show up at work, the jobs you offer can quickly become a commodity. This is important to understand, because commodities have no other distinction than being worth money. And if your employees see your business that way, they have no reason to keep working for you if they can get more money for a similar job somewhere else or if they can receive an attractive amount of unemployment money for not working at all.

While this might sound like a bleak picture and maybe even a hopeless situation for companies that are heavily relying on hourly employees in settings like retail, hospitality, and manufacturing, there are some immediate steps that companies can take to lessen the impact of this potential threat. Let’s look at some ways you can build a place where employees want to rather than have to work.

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How to move out of the commodity job market

The good news is that today’s employees are keenly interested in receiving non-monetary value as part of their employment. In this article we’re going to review a few of these non-monetary value currencies that can be addressed fast to move you out of the commodity job market.

Before we dive into the examples, let’s briefly touch on the reasons why many employees are looking for more than just money. You might silently protest right now and mentally list all the reasons why you disagree with the statement above. You could argue that a college student that is delivering pizzas is doing it only for the money and maybe the free pizza, and you might not be wrong making that assumption, but there’s more to it.

For example, what if there are two companies in town that are employing students to deliver pizzas? One company is very transaction-oriented, and the only thing that counts is to deliver pizzas on time. Employees are dreading work and trying to do as little as possible to get by and get paid.

The second pizza place, on the other hand, is paying the same hourly rate but they’ve created an environment that bonds employees together. They’ve linked work to a higher purpose and infused joy and excitement into the work atmosphere. Individuals working for the second pizza company feel that they’re part of a team that’s providing their customers with great food when they need it and where they need it. They take pride in delivering a delicious pizza straight from a wood-fired oven. Which of the two pizza places do you think students would want to work for? I think the answer is pretty obvious.

Now, let’s take a look at where you can focus to move away from offering jobs that are seen as commodities and move towards an environment that employees find stimulating and desirable. There are actually quite a few variables that you can influence. In this article, we'll cover four – flexibility, ease of use, communication, and belonging.  Remember, these are just a few examples of the kinds of value currencies you can use at your organization, and there are many more to consider as well.


Do you give your employees the opportunity to schedule their shifts in a way that offers flexibility to accommodate their changing needs, or do you lock them into inflexible schedules for multiple weeks at a time because that’s the only way your manual scheduling process works? Flexibility is high on the list of employees in all job functions and for all generations, but in particular, Gen Z is highly interested in and motivated by it.

Along the same lines, can employees request short-term shift swaps without being looked at negatively by their coworkers or the manager? If you don’t want your employees to ghost you and simply not show up for work, give them the flexibility to create a work schedule that aligns with their needs and lifestyle. AI-assisted decision making easily helps you define the ground rules for shift changes and short-term shift swaps. The system will then flag exceptions making it easy on you while offering great flexibility to your employees.

This value currency alone could be the reason why employees want to work for you and not your competition. Flexibility is a massive driver of employee satisfaction, and it also influences work-life balance.

Ease of use

Are you providing your employees with the tools and resources that enable them to do their assigned jobs quickly and efficiently?  Making employees struggle with outdated tools that waste time on administrative tasks doesn’t add value to the employee experience. The new generation of employees, especially those who had smartphones and tablets throughout their childhood, come to work with the expectation of finding consumer-grade tools. The harder you make it for employees to do their jobs and fulfill all the requirements of their role, the less engaged they will be. The result is a lack of commitment and, in many cases, lackluster performance.


How effectively do you communicate with your employees? Are you keeping them informed with timely communications that are relevant to them, or are you sending the same message to all employees hoping that everyone will pick out the pieces that are most relevant to them? Furthermore, how do you collect feedback and insight from your employees? Today, communication not only needs to be hyper-personalized, but also needs to flow both ways. This is important for a number of reasons.

First, you want to make sure that your employees receive the information that’s intended for them and they can act upon the information. Personalization is vital to this process, and helps to ensure employees in different roles understand the message and can take any action needed. To use the earlier example, if you have a change in delivery protocol for the pizza delivery drivers due to the pandemic, the corresponding information should go to delivery drivers and their chain of command, but not to the cooks or the cashiers because they’ll receive their own set of updated instructions. This is something you can facilitate in your HR technology by building out different security groups or position types to automatically route the right information to the right employees.

The second important aspect is to give your employees the means to share with you what they see on the front lines, what’s going right and what isn’t, how engaged they feel, and if they would recommend working for your company. Nowadays, companies have access to technology that allows them to do all of that and more. For instance, many retailers are using technology to conduct ad hoc as well as formal store audits to ensure that customers are finding a consistent experience in each of their stores and that all stores are quickly addressing the changing needs.

Finally, I want to point out that hyper-focused communication is also enabling employees to succeed more frequently and achieve overall better results, which adds to their self-esteem and, in return, improves how they feel about their employer. It also gives them the all-important sense of both physical and psychological safety that’s critical for us to foster during disruptions.


As human beings, we’re social creatures that thrive when we feel that we belong in a specific environment or with a group of people. While it’s true that the deepest relationships are sometimes created in the midst of the most challenging circumstances, we should always focus on building a sense of belonging by allowing every team member to contribute their unique abilities, skills, views, and perspectives.

Helping people managers from front-line supervisors to regional directors be tuned in to the human needs and desires of their employees can go a long way in creating an environment that is inclusive and fosters belonging. If you build these types of meaningful relationships and supportive environments consistently, employees will contribute at a significantly higher level to the business. Almost as a byproduct, the work environment becomes a highly valued non-monetary currency that can fast track your journey out of the commodity job market.

Something that helps a lot in establishing belonging from an HR technology perspective is having a strong people analytics approach. Whether you’ve been exploring this to cope with the fallout of our current situation or had been thinking about how better to act on your data in general, now is the time to think about it. Tracking and predicting for things like employee reliability, likelihood to be ready for succession, engagement/morale, flight risk, burnout, and other factors can inform what conversations you should have to build a supportive community environment at your organization. Plus it will help you catch issues before they have a negative impact.

Conclusion: Little changes can bring big benefits

Just imagine the difference that you can make by focusing on a few of these non-monetary value currencies. It can make the difference between being “just another place to work” or becoming an employer that offers more than just a monetary return for the hours of work provided. Once you have established your unique set of value currencies, attracting and retaining employees will become significantly easier, and your employees will be less tempted to cash in unemployment money because you are giving them more than just a paycheck.

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Published: Thursday, May 7, 2020