Friday, 7 October 2011

"Human Resources" - the phrase that should have died a-birthing

My inbox was assaulted today by an email from a publisher that shall remain nameless, with the subject line: "Human Resources: Managing your Most Valuable Asset".

I unsubscribed at that point. Anyone who can't see the irony in that email title isn't qualified to pronounce on it, and I wrote as much to the company, expecting it to be forwarded to the digital shredder.

Much to my surprise, the editor emailed me back. And I'll give her full credit, she was courteous, even if she did justify the use of "Human Resources" on the basis that everyone else is doing the same: argumentum ad populum, for anyone who still cares about debating rules.

It would have been churlish not to have replied, so I did. Here's what I wrote:

Hi Name Omitted, and thanks for responding.

Having been in business for over a quarter of a century, and running them for most of the last decade, I'm painfully aware that "Human Resources" is a term in common use. However, that in itself doesn't justify its use: that's just following the sheep. Buzzwords can change. Some should.

Any company that truly does value its staff and their contribution to its profits - and wants to keep both - has to do better than speak of its people in terms that reduce them to the same status as a desk fan. The word "company" means a group of people with a common purpose - and that's what distinguishes staff from "resources". You could replace every desk in a business with a different model overnight, and trading would continue unaffected. Try doing that with staff...

It's rather ironic that we as a community finally managed to bring an end to the thoroughly unsavoury practice of treating women in business as objects - only to extend the same courtesy to everyone else too!

Oh well, rant over. :) Thanks again for your response - and if I can in some small way have moved your (personal and collective) views on "HR", I'll have had a great Friday!

Best wishes,


So, am I a lone voice in a confederation of the dumb, or a dumb schmuck in the confederation of the smart?