All in all, you’re just another brick in the wall **

Neil ButlerUntypical Thoughts

I was reading a magazine the other day and stumbled over an article that discussed the proposed “downsizing” of a company. The outcome of this “downsizing” exercise was supposed to be a “20% reduction in our workforce”.

Time to dust off the soapbox and address one of my pet hates …

Why, in business, do we continually use euphemisms for people?

Over the years, I’ve been an “employee”, a “contractor” (both are statements of my contractual arrangements), a “human resource” (all in all, you’re just another brick in the wall), a “member of the workforce”, part of the “headcount”, part of the “human capital” (seriously!), a “cost”, an “overhead”, an “FTE” (for a while, I was only part of an FTE!) … the list goes on and on.

In so many ways, dehumanising the workforce makes life a lot easier – downsizing the workforce by 20% is so much easier than telling 25 people that you don’t need them to work for you any more. Reducing the headcount is a mathematical activity, whereas asking those people to find another job usually involves some emotions, at least for the person who is being asked to leave.

I really believe that people function best when they are treated as a person and not just another resource (like a chair, a PC or a desk). Sure, treating a colleague as a person instead of a resource means taking their family commitments into account when asking them to work back late. Remembering that a person is really tired because they are coming off a bout of the ‘flu requires a human element. As a parent of a year 12 student approaching final exams, your colleague might need some support and encouragement – as part of the headcount or as an overhead, they won’t need that consideration.

But, that said, people have so much more to offer your organisation than a human resource might … maybe, they went through the year 12 thing last year and can empathise with their colleague this year. Maybe someone who has just had a break and is feeling refreshed can take some of the routine stuff from the person who’s been under the weather and give them a chance to recover fully.

This is the stuff that only people can do … it is not the stuff that your “FTE workforce” understands.

And what is with the expression “HR Manager / Advisor / Executive”? If being a human resource isn’t bad enough – what about being an HR?

About 25 years ago, I completed a “Four Quadrant Leadership” program, conducted by Wilfred Jarvis from Wilfred Jarvis and Associates. One of the key messages I remember from that program was that you manage things but you lead people.

I absolutely agree that if you are responsible for one or more people, you need to manage the costs they incur, the sales targets they aspire to, the budgets you’re working within, even in some cases, the workload they need to complete.

But … and this is the big but … managing them as resources can only occur if you de-humanise them and make them something instead of someone.

** With acknowledgement to the great Pink Floyd and, specifically, Roger Waters for the title, taken from his song “Another Brick In The Wall (Part II)” from the 1979 album, “The Wall”

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