I absolutely love Human Resources. I love the irreplaceable support HR provides commerce and the unbridled potential it has to influence and empower people. And, I love the fact that HR is so often where human potential is developed and applied to problems that matter.
But, Chuck Blakeman is leading the charge to ban the term Human Resources and includes it in a list that “should be as off-limits as any racial slur…” Blakeman says, “…And the most subtle and insidious of all, ‘human resources’, which reduces people to the level of a chair, computer, forklift, or other business resources. All of these terms make it easier to see people as ‘cogs in a wheel’, allowing us to make decisions without as much regard for the individual human beings involved.”
The political correctness of common business terms isn’t particularly interesting to me, but I am fascinated by the transformation in language that’s brought about by innovation and changing demographics. Perspectives often change radically as new workers inherit power from existing leadership while using innovative tools and processes. That’s not only interesting, it’s important that we talk about it.
Human Resources Meaning requires perspective
Traditionally, the term Human Resources has denoted the perspective of the employer rather than the employee. Operating a business requires financial resources, material resources, and human resources. But, in the era of me.com iBranding, employer-perspective words are an endangered species.
Blakeman prefers using the term “stakeholder” to the word “employee” in his own company. The comparison of those two words reminds me of other word comparisons, such as “TV show” vs. “content” and “software developer” vs. “hacker.”
Television denotes the perspective of the broadcaster rather than the viewer, and younger viewers are more comfortable with the word content which is what they consume. And, writing code is what employers want their software developers to do, while hacking sounds more dramatic, unencumbered and individualistic.
Frankly, I find it awkward to use the words stakeholder and content. And, the word hack has been misused to the point that I’ve begun ignoring articles with headlines that contain the word.
But, I’m also aware that my personal history and career duration form my opinions. And, it’s okay for me to be annoyed by new terminology. It’s even okay if I ignore new terms and use legacy phrases for certain functions and situations.
But, it’s not okay to ignore the changes that generate the awkward use of new language. That particular form of deliberate ignorance can create a negative human and financial impact on others. And, that I believe is at the heart of Blakeman’s point.
We Need to Be Humanizing work
Words are used in business to bridge the digital and binary to human emotion and aspiration. Blakeman talks about the re-humanization of the workplace, and that is a premise with which I do not disagree. We are living in a post-industrial age and it’s simply more relevant to embrace post-industrial language and ideas.
Even though I stop short of thinking we should ban Human Resources from our vocabulary, I do believe we should have more conversations about human motivation and potential. We should talk more about the fulfillment people seek in their work, then go design work to fit that. Employee engagement and profits will naturally follow.
Most everyone dreams of the perfect job and ironically the formula for that dream is relatively simple. It amounts to aligning what you’re good at with what you love to do, and making sure it’s something that helps other people enough that someone will pay you to do it. When perfect alignment happens, time stands still. You look up at the end of the day and wonder where the time went. Some would say your activity ceases to be called work.
Human Resources realigned
Even though perfect professional alignment is rarely possible, the ideal of professional alignment should be an objective for managers seeking employee engagement and higher profits. And, from the perspective of the employee seeking alignment, access to the enabling tools of assessment, training, development and mentoring most often reside within the Human Resource function.
Shifting perspectives from the employer to the employee is inevitable as all sorts of social perspectives shift from the institution to the individual. Even so, the term Human Resources will become even more appropriate, and the function it serves will become even more vital.
Human Resources will continue to be an appropriate term for the simple reason that the function provides resources to the humans who work together towards the goal of enterprise profit. It’s not only a resource to the enterprise; it’s a resource to the people who make the enterprise possible.