HR label sends out all the wrong messages

Now the hype of the millennium is largely over we should perhaps use the
advent of the Year 2000 to reflect on our profession and its role in the future
– although amid all the planning to avoid problems with the Y2K bug I couldn’t
help but wish that there might occur some small glitches which would strike
down only those PCs and telephones operated by line managers and personnel
staff. How refreshing it would have been to see the faces of all those people
forced to leave their offices and work stations and go out and speak to people,
face to face.

But I return to my thoughts about the future and realise the same
considerations which motivate my secret wishes also direct my thinking about
our profession. One issue which concerns me is what we call ourselves. Of
course what we do and how we do it is more important than what we call
ourselves, but the trend in the past few years to call ourselves the
"human resources department" sends out signals about ourselves and
our profession that I hope are not true.

As a former "gunslinger" in the 1970s and 80s, I knew at the time
the confrontational system of industrial relations was hardly progressive let
alone constructive, but perhaps like politics was an example of the art of the
possible in that particular era.

In many personnel departments there grew a reputation for admin, welfare and
other costly and reactionary services. In that context, I can understand why
people might want to distance themselves from the organisation and language of
those times.

But in one step the Americans and academics set about "inventing"
the human resources management culture. They dressed it up as
"proactive" – another term I dislike. Furthermore they pretended,
like road-to-Damascus visionaries, to be privy to some new philosophy which
required their followers to "add value", be
"customer-orientated" and clasp mission statements to their bosoms.

I don’t know of any personnel director or manager who does not understand
the role of his department in these areas. We all know our organisations must
be flexible, nimble and, above all, people-orientated. I believe crucially in
the individuality of people. I find myself, therefore, at odds with I guess
about two-thirds of our profession who, by their title, regard the people they
work with as "resources", to be bracketed with equipment, capital or
facilities as simply another "resource".

Frankly I find the term "human resource" to be demeaning to
working people. The term sends all the wrong messages and I cannot believe
employees in whichever enterprise are happy to regard themselves as "resources".

I am no dinosaur but I am a personnel director. I do not think we need to
adopt or invent new words or complex jargon describe our responsibilities for

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