Why do we continue to use the term, “human resources”?

Why, in 2022, do we continue to accept the terms “human resources”, “human capital” and “human assets”? The last time I checked, we are all human beings.

You may say, “They are only words and aren’t you getting a little too politically correct!” The fact is, words have meanings.

Disruption Leadership Matters - Gary RyanA chair is a resource, a smartphone is a resource, a vehicle is a resource, chemicals are a resource. You get the picture.

“People are”, as Dee Hock, CEO Emeritus of Visa described in his book One From Many, “…not ‘things’ to be manipulated, labelled, boxed, bought and sold. Above all else, they are not ‘human resources’. They are entire human beings… limitless until we start limiting them.”

If deep down, you believe people are resources, capital or assets, your behaviour toward them will match what you believe. Instead, if you believe people are human beings, then everything changes, especially HOW you LEAD.

This is the topic I explore in my new bestselling book (the book has achieved multiple #1 Bestsellers business category lists on Amazon), Disruption Leadership Matters lessons for leaders from the pandemic, that covers the period of the first 20-months of the pandemic. While I provide a couple of examples of the detrimental impact leading people from the “resources” view of the world, most of the book is spent sharing real-world examples from leaders who understand they have been leading human beings during this time.

This form of leadership is great for the leaders themselves as they can remain authentic with their true selves; it is great for their followers because they are treated with the respect and dignity that all humans deserve; and it is great for the organisation’s bottom line. Who wouldn’t want that outcome!

Yet, calling people “human resources”, or “HR” as the industry likes to call itself, simply perpetuates the underlying view that people are resources. Is what I am saying controversial? YES! But only to the people who have a vested interested in maintaining the status quo.

Too many people, families and communities are negatively affected by poor leadership in the workplace. Folks have enough to take home with them, just in trying to do their job correctly, without their leader’s behaviour causing them to take home more stress. Think about it. Extra, unnecessary anxiety in the home is terrible for families and bad for our communities. There IS a relationship between leadership in the workplace and what goes on in our communities.

As a concept, “human resources” was born from Taylorism. Taylorism indeed brought many benefits to the world regarding production capability and employment, and it helped the 20th Century become a century of fantastic growth.

However, we are now more than 20% into the 21st Century, and everything has changed. We recognise we can’t keep destroying our planet, diversity and inclusion is real and must be acted upon, and humans are NOT resources! Honestly, “HR” is so last century it isn’t funny! Get with the program, folks and let’s start conversations about moving into the 21st Century.

Again, my primary focus of the book is to demonstrate through a wide variety of organisations, from global ones to small businesses, how leaders have led the human beings in their businesses through this most extraordinary period. Leadership needs to improve, and we have to shift our underlying thinking about WHO we are leading for that to happen.

If you have a title that include “HR”, that’s okay. Why not use the book to catalyse a conversation or two in your organisation about the term’s appropriateness. Indeed, “Chief Talent Officer”, “People Officer”, “People and Culture”, “People and Organisation Development” are all terms that are more appropriate than, “human resources.”

And, if you are a senior member of an organisation or institution that perpetuates the “HR” language, what if you too started having conversations about changing the names of your organisation? Words matter and they always have, and they always will.

What are your thoughts?

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By Gary Ryan

Gary Ryan helps talented professionals, their teams and organisations, move Beyond Being Good®