People Are Not Just Resources

Why do we call people "resources"? Especially when referring only to people? Why do we mask the fact we are discussing human beings? Let's refer to people as what they are.

People are not just resourcesI need to hold myself more accountable to practicing what I preach. This site and much of my spare time is focused on spreading servant leadership awareness and adoption. One of the most important aspects of servant leadership is valuing people. The people you serve: your team, customers and other stake holders, should be valued highly and respected intensely. If that is so, then why have I joined in the standard practice of routinely referring to these people I’m supposedly serving as simply “resources”?

Abrupt Reminder

They are not resources. They’re people, damn it!

That’s how a new friend* recently snapped me out of this rut. They are people. So why do we so frequently call them resources? For example…

We call it: Resource Planning, Resource Allocation, Resource Augmentation, Resource Outsourcing

We say: “We need more resources”, “Which resource is working on that problem?”

Resource is defined: “A resource is any physical or virtual entity of limited availability, or anything used to help one earn a living…” ( Wikipedia; 2010.08.15)

Yes, I realize that human resources are encapsulated within the above definition. Yet we use the term “resource” frequently even when referring only to people. In most cases, it is not as though we are referring to a variety of types of resources. So often we say “resource” when all we mean is people, or a person.

Why Not People?

Why do we not use the term “people?” Even calling them “staff” masks the reality of the fact they are human beings. I suspect it’s because it is easier to not feel emotion. It is easier to ignore that we’re making decisions that impact lives and families. Then, over time, we no longer think about the fact that we’re avoiding calling them people and simply use the accepted business term. This seems to be the point I was at. No longer though.

From now on, I will hold myself more accountable to practicing what I preach in this area. I’m going to make a stronger effort to refer to human beings as people, not resources. I’ll save the term “resources” for inanimate objects.

Want to Help?

Want to support this change? Great! The next time you hear someone referring to people as resources, you could correct them, I suppose. At the least though, don’t join them. For your parts of the dialog, just be sure to refer to human beings as people and not resources. Others will notice and, hopefully, join in as well.

Question: Do you refer to people as resources? If not, what advice do you have for others?

* Thank you, John. I do have much to learn from you…

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Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner is the founder and principal of Modern Servant Leader and Radiant Forest, LLC. He has studied and promoted servant leadership awareness and adoption for over 20 years. He is the author of 2 leadership books and has 2 decades of corporate management and leadership experience. His corporate experience spans CIO, VP, Director, and many management roles at Fortune 500, INC 500, and Nonprofits. Ben’s education includes a B.S. in Management Science & Information Systems from Penn State University and an MBA from Lehigh University. Ben's Full Profile Here: About Ben Lichtenwalner

6 thoughts on “People Are Not Just Resources”

  1. Good point Ben, I concur with your view and will also try to use more people versus Resources.
    We intent to forget the value of human interaction and the respect gained among the team members close collaboration.

    1. Thanks Jacques. I agree, when we simply go along with the popular terminology, it can, over time, have a detrimental effect we neither realize or intend. Thank you for your contribution – please keep me accountable.

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  4. I’m totally with you on this and in fact I’ve blogged about it in the past too. The main problem is how prevalent the ‘resource’ terminology is, people don’t even know they’re doing it, it has become normal. If enough people start kicking up a stink about this then maybe, slowly, things will start to change!

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