“Words mean things.”
“Before you can define what something is, you must first define what it is not.”
“There can be no intelligent or meaningful discussion until you first agree on your definition of terms.”
I learned those three bits of wisdom when I was in the tenth grade. As far as my teacher was concerned, they were axiomatic, and they were laws which could never be violated.
Now I’m not especially proud of having worked for some sixty employers in my life, but what’s done is done and can’t be undone. While this does indeed speak volumes about me-and whether or not you like it or agree or not-it also speaks volumes about those employers.
In the early ’80’s I was working at a manufacturing facility through a temporary agency. The parking spaces directly in front of the offices were, as is so often the case, reserved for specific office workers. And it was the sign for the “Personnel Manager” that had caught my eye on the very first day.
It’s a given I’d already been around the block a few times when I was sent to this particular employer. And knowing management and managers as I had come to understand them, it was surprising to me that such a rusty, dilapidated old sign, hanging between two equally rusty chains, would be allowed to remain in front of this company.
And so I made a game of keeping an eye on that sign, wondering just how long it would be before it was replaced. And then one morning, there it was, a brand new sign. Only it no longer read “Personnel Manager”.
Overnight, at least in terms of physical signs, “Personnel Managers” had become “Human Resource Managers” and I, and the rest of my coworkers, had summarily been demoted from “personnel” and “employees” to “human resources”. And at that moment, all those nagging, undefined feelings and unnamed intuitions now had the clarity of understanding for which I had been searching.
The following definitions all come from dictionary.com and all added emphasis is mine.
“Personnel, noun: A body of persons employed in an organization or place of work.”
“Employee, noun: A person working for another person or a business firm for pay.”
“Resource, noun: A source of supply, support, or aid, esp. one that can be readily drawn upon when needed.”
So by definition alone, by the simple fact that “words mean things,” it can’t be disputed that the business model in America has shifted from persons working for pay to resources that can be drawn upon when needed, which means the correct word to describe American workers is:
1. Law. A movable article of personal property.
2. Any article of tangible property other than land, buildings, and other things annexed to land
3. A slave
I can’t be faulted for looking for a more clear understanding of what I “am,” how I’m viewed within the confines of this new business model. You dehumanized me when you stopped calling me an “employee” and “personnel” but when I take the meanings of the words you use to their logical conclusions, you suddenly want to accuse me of over-reacting and misunderstanding your “intention”. That’s completely disingenuous and I simply will not let corporate America have it both ways.
So having made my “humanity” second to my mere usefulness as a “resource,” the only word I can find that becomes an accurate description of my coworkers and me is indeed “chattel”. After all, I am “movable”. I’m treated like “personal property,” i.e., a “resource”. And I’m not “land” or “annexed to land”. So if I’m not an “employee” and not “personnel” but am a “human resource” then yes, by logical conclusion and based upon the phrase created by corporate America, I am indeed nothing more than a “slave”.
And since it’s true that businesses exist to make a profit and no longer hire “personnel” but rather “resources,” it follows that we’re no longer talking about “employment” but rather:
Exploitation: noun: use, or utilization, esp. for profit.
Tragically, none of this is just a matter of semantics. It has indeed become the reality of the workplace and perfectly reflects the meaning of the phrase “Human Resource”. We are no longer people who are employed and paid for our time and labor but rather resources that can be drawn upon when needed, exploited simply for our use to the end of increasing a company’s profits, this and nothing more.
So you insult me, demean me, and dehumanize me by calling me a “resource”. Yet you still want and demand the purely “human” traits of loyalty, devotion, honesty, and hard work. It’s only when I complain that I’m magically resurrected to the status of “human” and “personnel”. At least then you call me a “disgruntled employee”.
The prospector needed the mule far more than the other way around. It would be in the best interest of all involved to remember that.
So I’m a “human resource”. I can live with that.
What would you have me call those who know the cost of everything and the value of nothing?
Oh, yes, that’s right: Businessmen.
I’m simply a blue-collar guy living in national obscurity in southwestern Virginia. To this moment, I’ve never had an answer for “What do you want to be when you grow up?” All I can do now is try to make sense of the past.
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