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May 13, 2019Read More
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.