Pet hate.

Hate hate hate.

“Resources”: used in companies to refer to their staff.

I really dislike this, though it’s all-pervasive: we don’t have Personnel Departments any more, we have Human Resources. It might sound more high-falutin, but it’s wank-factor 10 (on a scale from 0 to 10), and a move in the wrong direction.

Referring to people as resources is dehumanising. It comes with a connotation that people are interchangeable cogs, you buy them in boxes down at some store.

In a (heated) conversation about this at a previous employer, a project manager told me to pull my head in, with the explanation:

When we refer to resources to get a project done, we mean everything. We mean the people, the computers, the desks, chairs, software tools, and so on. It’s the whole lot.

This, frankly, is bullshit.

Computers, desks, chairs, and so on – tangible assets, can be obtained quickly and relatively easily. You can get all that stuff in a week, or less if you try hard.

Getting the right people to do the right job, at the right time is where creative and project work (and much other work) always suffers. Getting the right people can take weeks at best, months or even years at worst. And getting them interested and motivated to do what’s needed! Harrumph!

We all know, usually from bitter experience, that employing the wrong people usually produces a worse outcome than employing nobody.

We know the importance of having the right people.

So why the pretence?

Why do managers insist on the illusion that people are just interchangeable lumps, to be shuffled around as conditions permit? Why are people called resources?

People are people, they have talents – or lack thereof. The have strengths and weaknesses – and part of management is to use their strengths and make allowance for, or steer around, the weaknesses. They have a life outside work, they have families, they have feelings.

Treating people as numbers is not good for the people, and it’s not good for the managers of those people.

I’ve been preaching this at work (current work – not old work referred to above), the message is gradually sinking in, but getting old habits broken is difficult.

If we are to take this seriously, though, there are only two approaches possible:

1) Be specific. If you need desks and chairs, say so. If you need people, say so. And say what sort of person you want: What you want them to do. What sort of personality you want. What sort of experience you need. Don’t treat them as numbers.

- OR -

2) Drop the bullshit, don’t call people people, don’t call them resources either. Be completely up front about your purpose and intent. Refer to them as Carbon-Based Work Units.

You’ll find a low acceptance in the workplace for calling your staff CBWUs.

Try this at your workplace some time – next time some twit refers to Resources (meaning people), correct them: “sorry, not resources, CBWU’s”. Then explain. 1 in 10 will understand what you are getting at.

Help spread the word!

Together we can destroy the scourge of referring to people as resources!


It’s all part of ‘double-speak’. See Wikipaedia
Started with George Orwell and is a way of dehumanising people.
Essentially, it’s a copout by politicians and senior management who can’t make hard decisions and so bring in outsiders to do it for them. Then not being able to cope with the brutal need to sack employees who they have known for years, talk about ‘downsizing the human resources’ and offering ’separation payments’ [a few week's pay in lieu of a proper long-term career path] and providing ‘exit counseling’ [a few words from a contract psychologist] and help with ‘outplacement’ [giving you a list of firms with lesser paying dead-end jobs that only the desperate will take].
The best way to deal with it is to make fun of it: Military Intelligence’ is a figure of fun; ie there’s no intelligence in the military. Similarly with ‘Human Resources’; they ain’t human and they got no resources!
‘Downsizing’ and ‘Rightizing’ both mean sacking people but not those who are advocating the concept because they are generally on a contract and have no concept of long-term planning; only seeing as far as the end of their current contract after which they will be working somewhere else.
There’s no substitute for making those who take decisions live with the long-term consequences of their decisions.
So why don’t we start blaming politicians for causing the current water and power shortages because they privatised the government authorities and got rid of planning departments and will not take hard decisions about building new dams and nuclear power stations etc etc?
And blaming Management Boards who do not articulate clear goals and convince their employees to follow them.

Comment by Dad | October 18th, 2007 11:28 am | Permalink

I’d much rather be referred to as a carbon based work unit than a resource. At least that implies that I do work unlike a resource which is totally inanimate and does nothing on its own.

Comment by river | October 18th, 2007 4:06 pm | Permalink

Hey, Wallys Dad!

I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here guys. Calling someone a resource serves two purposes 1. It allows the speaker to sound as though they’re using the hip new corporate vernacular (translation: nonsensical bullshit) and 2. It allows them to see peoples as cogs.

I know you see this as a negative Wally, as do I, but pretty much every corporate employer I’ve ever had *chooses* to see their staff as expendable. As broken levers that can be replaced. I think this is a crucial and diabolical error, but speaking up about it only serves to ostracise yourself. I’ve found that most workers don’t want to be reminded of these facts, it hampers to self-imposed rose coloured work goggles.

Comment by Davey | October 18th, 2007 10:28 pm | Permalink

My hate is somewhat similar – referring to sportsmen as “units”. Dean Cox is a big unit! Grrrrrrrrr

Comment by archie FCD | October 21st, 2007 2:22 am | Permalink

Human resources always makes me feel like a tanker car of caustic soda. But not quite as valuable.

Comment by Trundling Grunt | October 24th, 2007 10:14 am | Permalink

Agree with your article and the views above. Methinks you need to play ‘Buzzword Bingo’ (the website address escapes me) – it what gives life to those ‘Corporate Planner’ leeches and creates their work….

I often cope by making silly faces, picking up a pencil and remarking, “Oh, it’s time for me to start my portable hand-held graphite word-processor.”

Comment by MillyMoo | October 24th, 2007 9:15 pm | Permalink

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