Your Employees Aren’t Assets, Resources, or Capital: They’re People

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Human Resources, Human Capital Management, Human Asset Management: All of these have something in common. They project an attitude of ownership. Resources, capital, and assets are all things that are owned. So are slaves.

Right, that’s not legal anymore. But when we give names such as these to our personnel departments, we send a subtle message to our employees: “Stay in line. Do what you’re told or else. We own you.”

Names are important. The messages they send, whether intentional or not, matter. A 2012 survey by the American Psychological Association found that about half of all employees who don’t feel valued say they plan to find a new job within a year.

And even though “assets,” “resources,” and “capital” sound like value words, by focusing only on the value to the company, not the value of the person, they come across as demeaning.

Why Feeling Valued Matters

There are many benefits to be gained by valuing your employees and making sure they know they are valued. Here are some of the findings from the APA survey:

  • Better physical and mental health
  • Higher levels of engagement
  • Increased job satisfaction
  • Increased motivation to do their best work
  • Reduced likelihood of seeking new employment opportunities

Some Alternative Titles

Many companies have come up with alternative titles for the department that deals with personnel issues. Personnel is probably the most obvious, but because of its age, it is often summarily dismissed. Its simplicity is its biggest strength: It’s all about people.

Another good alternative is “Employee Relations.” The word “relations” implies that the company cares about its employees and wants to build strong relationships with them. That’s much more appealing than being considered a cog in the corporate machine.

Words Matter

Words are powerful, but their effects are not always obvious. Referring to a person as “capital” is dehumanizing. Every time employees hear “human resources,” they are getting a subconscious message that they are not important. They are just company property, to be used up and discarded when they are no longer needed.