Humans Are Not Capital

Image of various workers

Some business owners, leaders and managers have denigrated the value of people by referring to them as expendable assets instead of contributing individuals. While the denotation of “human capital” remains innocent enough, the term’s connotation echoes master-servant ideology.

Consider how terminology referring to people in the workplace fluctuates between various levels of respect:

  • Worker
  • Servant
  • Slave
  • Employee
  • Associate
  • Human Resource
  • Talent
  • Human Capital
  • Laborer
  • Staff Member
  • Cog

A Survey of commercial documents spanning agricultural, industrial, and information ages might indicate progressively mechanistic, impersonal references to people within companies and organizations.

The concern extends further to instances when we refer to people by their position:

  • “That Project Manager”
  • “This Analyst”
  • “That Salesperson”
  • “The Vice-President”

Those positions are filled by people. Those people have names…and families, and friends, and feelings.

Not Mere Semantics

We often forget that people we hire usually make our company more money than we pay them. If it weren’t so then we’d never hire them. Furthermore, most people resent superior-inferior relationships.

How do leaders, managers and supervisors refer to the people who work within your organization? How do you feel when someone above you refers to you as capital? As an employee? As talent? Before we implement policies to censor such terms in any of the organization’s communications – it has been done in some companies– let’s first identify what mindset provides the seedbed for that vernacular.

Respectful references to the people within organizations come naturally from recognizing their humanness and unique contributions. Deserve their respect. Don’t demand it.

The Center for Organizational Design was created in 1992 to create high performance organizations that enrich human life and achieve extraordinary results. We're experts in organizational design and creating high performing companies. We provide consulting and training to help leaders build organizations that can succeed in today’s complex, fast-changing environment.

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