Human Resources

In a comment to one of PZ’s posts, jeanmeslier wrote:

Imagine being reduced to a resource …

Don’t get me started on the “Human Resources” paradigm of business management.

OK, you got me started.

The Human Resources paradigm is fundamentally flawed because it denies the moral distinction between people and things.

Oh, it makes operational distinctions:  it recognizes that people are more complicated than “other things”; and it recognizes that people are more “costly” than “other things”; but it asserts positively that managers ought to treat their employees decently for the same set of reasons that, say, carpenters sharpen their saws.

It’s that “for the same set of reasons” bit that’s the error; and it’s an error that can’t be fixed.  You can’t wash it off and peel the skin; it’s rotten to the core.  All you can do is throw it away and hope that the next one isn’t so disgusting.

OK, having gotten that off my chest, I’ll back off slightly and allow as how the Human Resources paradigm does have one bit of utility:  it presents an argument that the Mr. and Ms. WIIFMs* of the world can comprehend.

*WIIFM — pronounced WIFum — “What’s in it for me?” — actually taught as a Good Thing in pseudoscientific pop psychology classes at the American Management Association.


  1. Katydid says

    20 years ago, I worked for a small company (less than 50 people) that hosted an annual summer picnic for the employees: hamburgers, hot dogs, potato chips…that kind of thing. The first year I was there, the company owner was sitting at a picnic bench with a couple of the leadership, so I did the polite thing and approached and thanked him for hosting the picnic. As I walked away, the owner referred to me as “headcount”. I debated what to do about it, then turned around and said, “Yeah, the headcount whose work earned you that Bentley you drive.” LOL He didn’t even look embarrassed to be called out.

  2. lanir says

    I had a similar reaction when economics classes tried to tell me that people are happy when they’re buying things. They really thought me and everyone there was some special kind of stupid. Both high school and college level classes, too.

    The main problem I have with human resources is that it’s all a lie. They want you to come to them with problems but if you do, you always have to be prepared to find out you’re the problem in their view. None of the facts matter unless they’re awful enough to guarantee you a swift court victory. And since the court system is much more in favor of corporations than people, almost nothing qualifies for this. Example: #MeToo didn’t come from the courts. It came about because the courts weren’t doing their jobs.

    If they weren’t lying about wanting to help employees when things go sideways at work they would be on about the same level as the accounting department. As long as they weren’t making your job go away you could safely ignore them. They’d act like you’d expect of any other part of a corporation: solely in the corporate interests as defined by owners and shareholders. And that wouldn’t stand out at all.

  3. John Morales says

    What about human capital?

    (Often used in discussion of the implications of various nations’ population pyramids)

  4. dianne says

    They renamed human resources “talent acquisition” where I work. Now I feel like I have this job because I failed to evade the tranq dart.

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