What do the terms human capital, talent, and contingent workers all have in common? They all mean the same thing: people. More than any other, the staffing industry is riddled with buzzwords these days. From fancy acronyms to words that sound like something out of an episode of Black Mirror (ahem, Compliance, anyone?), it seems like some new confangled term emerges every day. Any newbie entering the industry would do well to keep a cheat sheet on hand.
In a world where buzzwords are as common as iPhones, few people stop to think of how these words actually affect people in the workplace. Unfortunately, it’s probably not the effect that industry professionals were looking for. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the issues that arise from this type of language - and what we can do to fix them.
Where Did All These Words Come From, Anyways?
Weird HR words are nothing new. In fact, the trend can be traced back as far as the 1930s. A series of experiments studying the effects of lighting changes on workplace productivity found that workers were better at their jobs when they got along with others and felt that their employers cared about them. This is a core tenet of design thinking. Big surprise, right? What is surprising, though, is that this ultimately led to a slew of office speak that still plagues the industry to this day.
Originally, terms like “synergy” and “organizational culture” were meant to shift the perception of workers as being cogs in a machine to being part of a valuable part of a living, breathing organism. Numerous academic studies supported this idea - and it worked - for a while. But over the years, as more and more terms made it into the HR dictionary, the concept went from an effective one to a confusing, muddled mess of inefficient lingo.
Think Before You HR Speak
I shouldn’t have to tell you that the words we choose impact people in a very real way. They affect not just the way the recipient sees themselves, but how you see them, as well. We see this in HR all the time. Someone applying for a job might use words like “self-motivated” and “passionate” to describe their attitude, when really they just mean they’re not lazy and they’ll do a great job. It works the other way, as well. Terms like “rightsizing” and “downsizing” sugarcoat the reality that employers don’t want to address directly: people are getting fired.
Then, of course, there’s the not-so-human term for the employees themselves, human capital. To be frank, human capital, along with many other industry buzzwords, should go straight into the bin. Why, you ask? Because in reality, they dehumanize people. Consider the definition of capital:
“Wealth in the form of money or other assets owned by a person or organization or available or contributed for a particular purpose such as starting a company or investing.”
The term likens people to property that’s only as valuable as the work they can perform. It reduces them from the sum of their parts to the parts of their sum. It instills bias right from the get-go and changes employer perception. In short, it’s a bad way to look at your employees. And unless you want your employees to feel like machines (trust me; you don’t), you shouldn’t use it.
Fixing Employment Culture, One Word at a Time
Sadly, HR lingo isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. So how can we collectively combat the inherent commoditization brought on by poorly-chosen buzzwords? We need to make a conscious effort to ensure everyone in the workplace feels valued, especially temp workers.
- Personality first; skills second. We live in a busy world. It’s tempting to just graze the skills section of an applicant’s resume and call it a day, but actually, some the most valuable information can be found in the cover letter, the objective section, and the interview. A 2014 study found that 78% of the employers surveyed think personality is more important than skill sets. Skills can be learned; how people jibe with their co-workers can’t be. And remember what we said at the beginning of this article: employees are happier when they get along with their coworkers.
- Help them help themselves. People like knowing what’s expected of them. It helps them organize their thoughts and prepare for the day ahead. This is even more true when it comes to contingent workers, who may often change specific job duties or roles. Take a day or two to sit down with your new employee and go over their responsibilities, deadlines, and day-to-day tasks. Make sure there’s always someone available to answer questions and help them adjust to new assignments.
- Welcome them with open arms. Here at Crowdstaffing, we love making newcomers feel welcome. We send out an introductory email with a personal bio every time someone new joins the club. The best part? The rest of the team takes a genuine interest in it. It works both ways; new employees appreciate the warm welcome, and seasoned vets get to learn more about their new teammate. It may seem like a simple, little thing, but it has a big impact on our company culture.
- Be genuine, and be communicative. Everyone likes hearing when they’ve done a great job on their project or presentation, so don’t hesitate to tell your employees when they do! The key is being specific. What did they do differently that kicked butt? Did their panache help land a tough client? Did they tap into their natural proclivity for problem-solving to fix a sticky situation? By recognizing specific traits, you’re showing them that you value them as a person – and not just for their contributions.
- Don’t be afraid to trust them with new responsibilities. It’s common for temps to be seen as transient, and therefore they tend to end up with a list of repetitive and unchallenging job duties. But just because they may be temporary, doesn’t mean they’re not worthy of trust! If an employee is doing a bang-up job, why not ask them to take on another project or help with a new assignment? They’ll enjoy taking a break from the norm. Plus, they’ll get a boost of confidence knowing that you’re confident in their abilities.
At the end of the day, people just want to be treated like people. We all want to feel noticed and needed. We want to have meaningful interactions with our co-workers and our bosses. No matter our job title, we want to know that we’re important in and out of the workplace, and that our opinions are valued. Above all, though, I can guarantee you that none of us want to be called human capital.