October 25, 2010

Human resources

“Human Resources” is an insidious term that enables managers and administrators to regard workers as a commodity—removable, replaceable, transferrable—like bushels of coal, instead of as sentient beings. It encourages the business, as an entity unto itself, to regard employees as cells in the business organism: useful, but not to be worried over when they are expended.

The “HR” department used to be called “Personnel,” recognizing the persons. Or “Staffing,” the activity the department carries out. Or “Hiring.”

I hear managers say, “The project needs more resources,” meaning people, not office supplies. “We need to budget for another resource.” You’re talking about a thinking, feeling person who provides attention for your tasks. Have more respect than to commoditize the living humans who work for you.

“We reduced our headcount.” “We implemented a reduction in force.” “We downsized.” These mean that you cut off people’s income. If you did it to improve the bottom line for your company, keep in mind that you have pulled the bottom line out from under the people whose jobs you ended.


  1. You don’t seem to get what the HR department is for. It is not there to provide help to employees or to recruit them. It exists to deal with covering the company’s ass in the face of hundreds of federal and state employment regulations. It does things like preparing sufficient records that any employee can be fired if needed, assuring that all employees are told to talk to management in case of sexual harassment (as required under supreme court precedents) etc., managing the paperwork associated with internal complaints that could lead to lawsuits, etc.

    HR is not about employees in the positive sense at all. No real organization uses HR for recruitment any longer, no real organization uses HR as an adjunct to recognizing good work, etc. It exists entirely to make sure that paperwork which could destroy the company if screwed up has been properly managed.

    The name is therefore quite reasonable.

    As for the other terms you mention, I suggest a reading of Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language”, available online.

  2. That would be “Personnel Records,” then.

    The Orwell essay is vital, a classic; thank you for returning it to my attention. “In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.” QED, I think.

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