Human beings YES Human Resources NO
If I referred to you as a ‘resource’ how would that make you feel? If I referred to someone you loved or cared about as a ‘resource’ what would you think?
I believe one of the biggest inhibitors for HR and the vital work about culture building is the name itself.
The language we use matters, it defines what we value and believe in. Our language shapes our world. The language of human beings as resources denotes several things in my mind, and they are not positive.
It conveys a sense of objectification – you do not matter as a unique person – you are simply a resource to be utilised for profit-making purposes in the organisation. An approach where humans are treated as resources is dehumanising and demotivating. It fails to recognise the fundamental needs of human beings and as a result, leads of widespread harm and suffering within organisations.
I believe it is time for a complete rethink about the way people are treated within organisations. The warning signs are all around us – chronic stress, burnout, insecure work, fear. Organisations have stubbornly low levels of engagement around the world. The ripple effects extend beyond the business, broken families, damaged and fragmented communities.
I believe one of the catalysts for this rethink should be a new paradigm for the role of HR or an even better version of it. That begs the question, what does the better version of HR look like? The honest answer is, ‘I’m not sure’. Not being sure about something is a good thing – it fuels curiosity and opportunities to learn. With an understanding that we are not wholly sure of the destination, I am comfortable that certain principles would need to be in place to alleviate the endemic hurt and suffering in organisations around the world. I think HR has reached a natural inflection point, it is difficult for HR to champion people-centred ideals and humanised workplace cultures whilst the entire profession is still known as Human Resources.
It is time to elevate the people role to a higher level of consciousness, something genuinely people-centred and sustainable, with new levels of thinking in how people in organisations are treated.
There are many organisations that prove that applying certain people-centred principles can cultivate healthy organisations. They did not have all the answers either, but they acted from their deepest sense of doing the right thing. They rejected the dogma and assumptions grounded in so much traditional business and management thinking. They were bold in their vision and dared to dream of a better future where business can be a powerful force for good in the world.
What is good for people is therefore good for business. We all know this yet why does it prove so difficult for so many organisations to achieve?
These inspiring organisations have begun to heal the seemingly overwhelming and intractable problems like chronic stress, burnout, and fear that dominate so much of society. Discovering how to make things better and humanise our organisational cultures is the bright and purposeful future for what historically was known as the HR function. What is good for people is therefore good for business. We all know this yet why does it prove so difficult for so many organisations to achieve? I believe there are many factors, short-term financial pressures, and traditional command and control cultures where humans are considered nothing more than resources to be exploited for financial gain are huge barriers. Organisations have the illusion of control with tight command and control management regimes in place. The very managers who control others are wary about relinquishing control.
Short-term organisations can impact their financial results positively by treating people abysmally, indeed many have done so. In lots of organisations, it can feel like a race to the bottom where everything of value that can be cut has been cut. When humans are resources, numbers on spreadsheets, they are easier to cut. The human impact is often never considered. Everybody accepts this is not a sustainable position. If we are going to build a better future, we need a new mindset.
Financially sustainable results cannot be achieved without healthy people. What can be more important than this for organisations? Success cannot be achieved with a ‘humans as resources’ mindset. It is hard for people to feel they really matter when they are treated as a resource.
I believe that success comes from the principle that organisations exist to serve the needs of their people, all their people whether they are employees, suppliers, customers, or stakeholders, and not the other way around. This should be the bright future waiting to be embraced for the function previously known as HR. It is one where sustainable value creation, within an ethical approach of doing the right thing by all people impacted by the organisations activities becomes the new measure of success. It means a complete change of emphasis and focus for the HR community, which in my experience the community is yearning for. There is no time to lose, bring it on I say!
I would love to hear your thoughts.
Kevin: I can relate to this based on my experience in aviation. Years ago, when I’d been a commercial pilot for a long time at the same location, a hospital in Iowa (U.S.), I was financially secure, and anxious to pursue another path. I wanted to keep flying, however, so I asked another pilot at our base if he’d consider going half time with me, since he was in the same life-place I was. He agreed that sharing one FTE between the two of us (an HTE?) made a lot of sense. We were anxious to try it. The company shot the idea down. Too radical. Too new. Unworkable. Can’t do that etc. etc. Even though it meant less than half our individual paychecks from the company—due to eliminating our health care bennies—the company wouldn’t budge. It was revealing. We were a resource, but only on their terms, I guess.
Amen to that, Kevin.
I poked a little around and found in https://www.personneltoday.com/hr/whats-in-a-name-hr-or-personnel-does-it-really-matter/ that – probably to nobody’s surprise – dates the change from personnel to HR to the 1980, the same time shareholder value became the only criterion on which companies should measure themselves, stock buy back no longer was considered insider trading, and social contract went the way of the dodo.