You might have noticed some companies, perhaps even your own, trying to drop all mention of “Human Resources” and replace the title with something they doubtless consider more wholesome. Why? Well words matter and effect the way we think about things. There is a general perception that the phrase “Human Resources” is somewhat cold and impersonal, like it reduces the status of the human in the workplace to that of some sort of lifeless cog in a soulless machine. This is especially true in larger companies, where the size and structure make it difficult if not impossible for management to know the names, let alone anything of the personal lives, of the people they have working for them.
Here are a few of the titles thrown around as potential replacements for our beloved profession and what I think of them, though I think I’ll start with the one we already have.
If you agree with these assessments, or you’ve heard of any others I’ve missed, leave a note or hit me up on Twitter.
This has something going for it that nothing else on this list does – it’s already established and everyone knows what it is. In fact it’s so ubiquitous it’s been acronymed. We work in “Haitch Are”, but corporate financers don’t work in “see eff”, brain surgeons don’t work in “bee ess”, and foreign language teachers don’t work in “eff ell tee”. The fact Human Resources is so instantly recognisable as “HR” not only shows how strong this title is but also demonstrates how difficult it will be to budge to those who are making the effort to change it. But is it really cold and impersonal? The “human” part certainly is a little… clinical. And the “resources” part certainly is a little… emotionless. Still, it could be worse. It could be “Homo Sapiens Assets”.
3/5 – Must try harder.
I’ve actually worked for a HR department which reformed itself into a “Human Capital department”. Interestingly, it really did have an effect. The intention was to make the workforce feel like they were being invested in. Did it transform us from a clinical department of cattle-prodding people along into a warm and welcoming office of gentle encouragement? No. In fact it made the general workers suspicious that their beloved HR staff, including yours truly, were being turned into sinister agents of the corporation. The general feedback was that the phrase “capital” is too close to words like “revenue” and “profit”. The perception was that we were being changed from a department that attended to the smooth running of the people part of the business, into one which ensured profitability from the employees. The effect was pretty toxic and took a lot of effort to push back against.
1.5/5 – Good intentions, but the creator needs a better thesaurus.
I really like this! I like the “People” part, it really gets the job done in so far making us a seem a little warmer. But the “Operations” part is quite sexy as well. It makes our profession and department sound like a compassionate squad of ultra-intense special-forces pen-pushers! If some of your employees lost their temper because the espresso machine was broken, then took some of their colleagues as hostages and were threatening to shoot elastic bands at them if their demands weren’t met, you’d definitely yell “Get me People Operations!” before calling for “Human Resources”. Our people skills and professionalism summed up in two medium sized words. Love it.
4/5 – Who dares wins.
I want to like this but I am somewhat dubious. It makes us sound less like a department committed to helping the people of an organisation succeed in their respective roles and more like curators at a work-themed amusement park. Although “people” is definitely going in the right direction, “experience” for many companies is a bit too removed from what they actually do. Let’s face it, if you saw a room with “employee experience” written on the door and didn’t find a playroom complete with a comfy couch and gaming console/widescreen TV hooked up to Netflix you’d be pretty disappointed.
2/5 – A bit of false advertising.
I’ve no firsthand experience, but hearsay tells me this is real. Someone tried to call their HR department this. Please don’t do it.
0/5 – No. No no no.
The People Team
“In 1972, a crack Human Resources unit was disciplined by an obstinate company director for a crime they didn’t commit. These men and women promptly escaped from maximum-security gardening leave to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by half of LinkdIn, they survive as Human Resources soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem… if no one else can help… and if you can find them… maybe you can hire… The People-Team.”
It’s better than some of the others, but if you work for a department called this then expect anyone over 40 to drop regular references to a certain 1980s TV action series.
3.5/5 – I love it when a plan comes together.
The Fun Police
If you’ve not yet heard this one count yourself lucky. This is the (usually prejorative) term used by the general workforce to describe their beloved HR department. It is particularly prevelent in large organisations, where HR can seem a little impersonal, though it can crop up in organsiations were HR’s primary function is to keep the employees in line. I’m not really a fan. Aside from the “us and them” vibe, it’s a pretty dreadful phrase for what we actually do.
0/5 – We’re not police, but if we were we’d arrest this one for fraud.
Erm… naah not for me. This sounds too much like some sort of organisational promotion from on high. It really gives the impression the company boss is one of those who smiles all the time and thinks a positive attitude and slick presentation are a substitute for intelligence and competence. All it really needs to make the journey to corporate jargon complete is to throw “think outside the box” or “taking it to the next level” in there somehow. “The Dynamic and Proactive Employee, Empowerment, Success and Synergy Unit” would really put the cherry on the cake….. Oh no.. what have I done?! If I hear of anyone who actually calls their HR department this the HR Cat will come after you with her claws!
2/5 – All hands on deck! We’re not using this!
You might not have heard this before. I’ve only ever heard it from my husband, who describes HR matters as “penguin stuff” and my HR colleagues and pals as my “penguin friends”. I’ve never found out why or where he got this from, but I really love penguins. “I’ll talk to our penguins about this”, or “we’ll ask the penguins how people feel about the restructure” might be a little quirky but its quite warm. The only issue is when it comes to disciplinaries, investigations, or some of the more unpleasant parts of HR. People might not be able to take it seriously if they were given a dressing down by a “penguin”.
5/5 – Penguin and proud.
Ultimately, in the opinion of this HR cat, the effort to rebrand HR without actually fundamentally addressing the challenges that HR faces going forward is just a marketing stunt, and one that will be quickly identified as such by HR workers and the general workforce alike. Decide first what you want this profession to be, and perhaps the appropriate name will pick itself.