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I am not a human resource

Read why I think the term Human Resources (HR) is out of date and out of touch

Increasingly I am of the mind that it is time to say goodbye to the term Human Resources (HR). When the organisation I work for re-branded Personnel, Human Resources, like Laloux (2014), I thought it was a step in the wrong direction.

It makes me uncomfortable to be viewed like an inanimate asset and said as much to the Head of this new department when they came to visit. I feel unseen and believe that such terms give a good insight into how an organisation is run.

Let me explain.

Words are incredibly powerful, they can injure or enamor. If the words you speak become the house you live in (Hazif), when the term HR is employed then it suggests those that manage the organisation see it as a machine with interchangeable and replaceable parts.

Only we are not interchangeable with anyone else, each of us is unique. Whilst we might have the skills and knowledge an employer hired us for, we are likely to provide them in our own way.

Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person - not just an employee - are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled. Satisfied employees mean more satisfied customers, which lead to profitability (Anne M. Mulcahy, Xerox chairman and chief executive officer)

The human factor

The simple fact is that as human beings we can’t help but bring more to the workplace than just our skills and knowledge. We don’t hang up who we are with our coats. Indeed the more we bring of ourselves to work, the more productive and content we are (Kahn, 1990).

Remember a time when you were really enthusiastic about a task (actively involved) and another when you didn’t offer an idea at a meeting (passive performance)? In Kahn’s view you were playing your role to varying degrees - physically, cognitively and emotionally.

What we bring to a workplace depends on how we feel. If we feel undervalued, that we are no more than an input to a system then it is likely we will work to rule, do the minimum and feel pretty miserable about it.

When we care and feel cared for then we are likely to go the extra mile. In business parlance this is termed “employee engagement” - another machine word.

However, although this term sounds one-sided it results from actions and activities on the side of the organisation. Organisational commitment influences employee commitment (Donald et al, 2005). Where the relationship between employer and employee is reciprocal both give, benefit and grow (Sorenson, 2013).

And just like any other human relationship it comes down to satisfying needs.

Herzberg’s two-factor theory suggests that things like pay, job security and a safe environment (hygiene factors or lower needs) matter but whether we feel valued, are challenged, have the opportunity to develop and gain a sense of achievement (motivating factors or higher needs) are just as important. In fact these factors are what satisfy, whilst the others if not right lead to dis-satisfaction.

It's about culture

All of these elements an organisation has influence over; far more so than it does over the employees themselves and what they bring to the job. It is through these factors an organisation demonstrates its commitment to its staff.

You get a good understanding of an organisation’s commitment to its people by examining the workplace culture.

Culture can be thought of as the character of a company and like personality it comes from its values, beliefs, behaviors and practices. In other words it's found in its systems and procedures including training and development, rewards and recognition, the working environment and communication channels.

And so full circle.

As all these factors are generally driven by decisions made at the top, they are likely to reflect the way leadership views the purpose of the organisation and its people.

If you have ever worked somewhere when the CEO or MD changed you will likely to have noticed the impact that can have on the drivers and focus of a business (maybe more customer-centric, more commercial or more corporately responsible).

I think people increasingly want to work where they feel what they do matters and creates value for the customer + society + the environment + the organisation and themselves.

I know I want to work where my skills and knowledge are maximised, where I am treated with respect and where I am recognised for what I bring as an individual.

And I definitely want to work where I am not talked about as a resource or treated like a piece of machinery and given an annual service (appraisal) to confirm I am still working as expected.

I want to work where HR is called People.


I was challenged by the Head of HR to offer an alternative to the term Human Resources, I offered People. If you know of other terms, please let me know in the comments section below and I'll pass them along.

Update to post

Not long after I wrote this blog post, I attended an offshore wind conference, there I met a Dutch guy and talked with him about my views about the term Human Capital.

When asked what HR is called in Holland he said we call it "Human Resources." When I asked him what did it used to be called before it re-branded itself, he replied People Matters. Brilliant!

References Donald, I., Taylor P. and Johnson, S. (2005) Work Environments, Stress, and Productivity: An Examination Using ASSET. International Journal of Stress Management Vol. 12, No. 4, 409–423. Educational Publishing Foundation

Kahn ,W.A. (1990). Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement at Work The Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 33, No. 4, pp. 692-724

Sorenson, S. (2013). How Employee Engagement Drives Growth In: Gallop Business Journal, 20 June 2013

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