Terminological inexactitude No.2 – Human Resources

An occasional series on phrases we use that imply the opposite of what we intend

What do we have working for us in businesses? Oh, yes, people. Living, breathing, creative, resourceful, unpredictable, emotional, irrational, wonderful people.

They used to be looked after by ‘Personnel’. Ok, that’s a little UNpersonal and it had a bit of a bad press but at least you knew what it was about – persons, right? So what idiot decided to change it to ‘Human Resources’?

People are not equivalent to Capital, Land, Plant and other resources a business uses. They are not predictable or measurable. They are not easily bought and sold. They are not easily interchangable. They are not de-humanised units of production (or, at least, they shouldn’t be seen as such).

“People are our most important asset” is a mantra repeated by the majority of businesses. There it is again – the ASSET word. Well, they are looked after by “Human Resources”, so why wouldn’t you speak and think of them that way? And treat them the same as other asets?

This is not just pedantry. This stuff is dangerous. Measurements of employee engagement suggest that less than half of all employees are engaged, and about a third are actively thinking about leaving. Well, maybe they don’t like being seen as assets and having their human spirit degraded.

Let’s start calling “Human Resources ” the “People” function. Like “Finance”, “Marketing”, “Operations”. Then the “Director of People” would remember what they were about. And maybe the rest of the Leadership Team would remember what’s really important to their business.

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