The problem with calling people “resources”

What exactly are resources? They’re something that gets used. When we think of resources, we think of things like food, gas, electricity, solar power (often called a “renewable” resource), and money. In fact, Merriam-Webster defines resources as follows:

a) a source of supply or support : an available means —usually used in plural
b) a natural source of wealth or revenue —often used in plural
c) a natural feature or phenomenon that enhances the quality of human life
d) computable wealth —usually used in plural
e) a source of information or expertise

So why is this important? Well for starters, I don’t think anybody wants to be treated like a stack of printer paper – do you? Imagine being purchased (your salary), inserted into the 3rd-floor copier (your department), and being called upon as an instrument with which to display information (your job description) that will most likely end up being shredded or tossed later on (quitting in frustration or being laid off).

Yet we continue to refer to people as resources, and we treat them like renewable ones at that (more on that later so keep reading).

Humans are a ‘non-renewable’ resource

AKA “the millennial problem”

I’ve written about the challenges of keeping talent before. As the founder of Perfect Leap™, part of my vision is helping businesses acquire and keep top talent. However the problem of keeping people happy extends far beyond giving them perks.

Too many managers fall into the trap of blaming their workers for their problems. Great leaders know that they are responsible for their employee’s success – and their failures. Great leaders keep their organizations flat and transparent. Great leaders eat last:

(All video credit goes to the incredible speaker + best selling author Simon Sinek)

As a millennial, I am constantly bothered by the countless barrage of clickbait articles claiming to know the magic solution to solve the perceived generational gap between millennials and everyone else. Usually these articles are followed by a stream of comments from both sides: Those darn millennials, they just don’t understand do they? They’re so entitled, they’re so sensitive, they don’t understand what it’s like to work hard, they don’t know respect is earned. Baby boomers just don’t get it – they wrecked the economy and made houses unaffordable! Baby boomers didn’t have any problems finding jobs, or buying cheap houses – they’re so out of touch. This topic of discussion is so popular that best-selling books have even been written on the subject!

But keeping in mind that most arguments can usually be solved by meeting in the middle, I don’t see the real issue as being the fault of millennials or baby boomers at all. Rather, if we’re to believe the timeless advice given in best-selling author Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People(a favorite read of billionaire investor Warren Buffett), the real issue is that people want to feel like their opinion matters, and that their contributions to the workplace are valued. How can we send that message when we treat people like they’re disposable? Too often we treat our workers like pod people in the Matrix:

All credit goes to respective sources, including Warner Bros, the Wachowskis, etc.

Dispelling the myths about age

-Millennials and boomers are generalizations that encourage ageism. There are rich millennials, poor boomers, and people on both sides with different political and religious opinions. There are boomers who can write computer code, and millennials who can hustle like Jordan Belfort (language warning). Age means nothing.

-Millennials and boomers actually want the same thingto feel heard, respected and valued.

-Millennials and boomers also want to feel stable – it may come as a surprise to some but the housing crisis is affecting everyone, and not just people of one specific age group.

Beware the talent drain (and the temptation to lash out)

At a certain point, employees who feel like they’re treated poorly will leave (I don’t even need to provide a link for that one; the proof is in the pudding). But what happens when the pudding goes rancid? Then you’ve got a bigger problem on your hands: Companies that wind up getting poor reviews on sites like Glassdoor also wind up earning poor reputations in the industry, and subsequently they end up getting passed over repeatedly by people who could otherwise greatly improve their chances of success.

The counter-intuitive nature behind defending your business

Many of these same employers would probably love to silence these employees by launching a lawsuit, but the fact is that you can’t control what people say to their friends over a beer, and unless it’s some sort of obvious libel (i.e. an outright lie about an employer having horrible conduct), you would have a hard time explaining to a judge why you think the employee should be financially ruined for the rest of their lives. Further, the self-inflicted damage that can arise from companies who choose to sue former employees can be long-lasting – as anybody who has heard of the Streisand effect knows.

Some companies make it a policy not to offer references, either for legal reasons or to try and discourage people from quitting. This is a terrible policy, and in truth it gives your employee no reason to stay, nor does it give them reason to work harder. After all, if an employee is basically stuck between working for you and jumping off a bridge, what’s to stop them from just saying screw it and jumping anyways when they decide they’ve finally had enough? Think about it: If there’s no option to leave on a good note, then what’s the point of being courteous in return? Why should your workers bother giving you 2 week’s notice when you won’t give them a reference anyway? Besides, there are ways to provide references without necessarily putting your reputation at stake (if you don’t know what these are, then you should probably consult with your legal team on what is and isn’t acceptable).

So how do you defend yourself when the employee appears to have more rights? The truth is that the best policy is to simply not defend yourself. Instead, be as professional and courteous as possible, even if they still decide to leave. Here’s why: being courteous even when you don’t feel the person deserves it paints a better picture of you as an employer – it does more for your reputation than lawsuits or pettiness ever will.

Beware the temptation to lash out at former employees!

The Resource Department

Understandably, not all businesses are small enough to be perfectly flat. That is, in theory, why HR departments exist in the first place, isn’t it? To create some sort of buffer so the senior leadership team can focus on steering the ship without being overwhelmed by employee-related issues. But therein lies the problem:

How HR departments have evolved

Most of us who have worked in a corporate structure are fairly familiar with how the HR system works. Generally, they handle recording your personal information, bank account for direct deposit, sending out tax slips and initiating the process for employee on-boarding / termination.

But a lot of HR departments are now tasked with handling much more serious, non-administrative responsibilities. In addition to planning company cultural gatherings, ordering office supplies (does this sound ridiculous? you’d be surprised), sending out birthday blasts over email and handling other things that should probably be better left to Marketing + Public Relations, HR have also been given the critical role of dealing with employee grievances.

Think about it for a moment: if you have a complaint against a co-worker, you generally try to resolve it with your co-worker first, and if that doesn’t work then you go to your manager. But what happens if your issue is more serious, like assault in the workplace, bereavement, or a complaint against your manager’s conduct? These issues are often escalated to HR, which has become a catch-all.

Add all this up and you can start to see how some companies end up with HR nightmares on their hands. You may have also noticed how HR nightmares quickly blossom into PR nightmares – ouch, not good!

So what can we do to solve these problem? If you’re wondering, read on!

The Human Department, and how it solves the problem

Because HR is flooded with requests from humans, it only makes sense that they bear the brunt of human problems. Therefore, these problems come bundled with all of the emotions, challenges and complexities that you would expect. And therefore, it makes sense that HR should be trained to handle these types of problems. So how do we address it?

Here are the steps that we need to take (in my opinion) in order to build a better workplace for everyone involved:

  1. Don’t confuse administration with human interaction. Administrative tasks should be handled by people who specialize in administration. As a company grows in size, administrative staff become busier and busier – I think some of the screw-ups we’re seeing now are a direct result of the HR department being overloaded with paperwork and still expecting them to handle personal aka “human” problems.

  2. Mental health professionals should be a STANDARD in the workplace. Employee concerns aren’t being heard by the right people; they need to be acknowledged by trained professionals and psychologists. All too often we expect HR to understand how our employees feel, to reason and empathize with them – all while juggling a mountain of administrative tasks. Instead, a dedicated team member trained in human interaction would be a much better fit, wouldn’t you agree? Not to mention we’ve all had to hear about tragedies in the news – clearly mental health is a part of the problem; after all, isn’t that what we’re referring to when we say “that guy who harmed people is a nutjob!”?

  3. We need to start caring about people as people again instead of treating them like number. Companies should regularly gather feedback on what can be done to make people’s jobs and lives easier. Google is a fairly successful company (OK let’s be realistic, their market cap is worth $717 billion; they’re a juggernaut). Google “gets it”. See, which in my opinion asks all the right questions. I’ve personally experienced cases where I ended up quitting out of pure burnout and overwhelming frustration, yet I did not receive any phone call or follow-up for questioning why I was leaving. In any case, a properly conducted follow-up interview would have provided valuable insight for both myself and the employer.

  4. We live in a world where people are more sensitive. Personal sense of identity and freedom of expression are at the forefront of political platforms and social justice. Equality for all, racial + gender diversity and personal empowerment are all hot topics in the media – yet from a corporate standpoint, we continue to refer to people in the workplace as “resources”. Whether you agree with the current trends, I don’t think there’s anything more dehumanizing than being a corporate drone, do you? More than ever, people need the freedom to just be themselves, both at and away from the workplace.

More than ever, people need the freedom to just be themselves

By treating people like people, everyone wins

A big part of why we founded Perfect Leap™ is because we’re passionate about people. As a technology professional and business consultant, I want to bring that passion to other companies. It isn’t just about fixing problems – it’s about making the world a better place to live and work. We believe that by treating people like people – with all their quirks, faults and talents, businesses and their workers can be a lot more successful.

Perfect Leap™ does more than just technology – we’ll give you the tools you need to find and keep the best talent. So if you’re looking to make the Perfect Leap™ to a better workplace and better IT, don’t hesitate to reach out.

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