Management lingo must go because people are not resources

Have you ever used the words "resource," "my people," or "headcount"? Find out why these terms may be alienating the people who report to you.

Consider this: Of all the things Caesar accomplished, what is the one thing that has lasted? His words:

“Veni, Vidi, Vici.”

And that’s how it works in the workplace, too. You may accomplish great things, but your words will last in minds, hearts, and hallways much longer and more vividly than your great deeds.

That’s why you should avoid the trend of using business buzzwords. Such jargon offends employees and harms your credibility as a manager. Here is a short list of terms to avoid:
  • Don’t refer to people as “resources.”
  • Never refer to the workers you supervise as “my people.”
  • Stop using euphemisms for firing someone, including reducing headcount, downsizing, de-hiring, or involuntary separation.

In this article, I’ll explain why I think these terms are especially offensive to IT workers.
In our Discussion Center, we're talking about why managers should avoid using jargon, euphemisms, and other annoying buzzwords. To add to this discussion, post your comment to this article. Each week, the person who provides the best feedback to this column will win a free TechRepublic coffee mug.
This week, guest columnist Loraine Lawson is filling in for Bob Artner. His column will return next week. To subscribe to Artner's Law, sign up for the TechRepublic TechMail now.
Ignore what the economists tell you
Managers like to talk about adding or removing resources when they refer to employees. I think the word resource should be reserved for references to things like gold, land, oil, and wood.

The reason managers use the word resources to refer to people is because it makes it much easier to drastically alter the lives of their coworkers. After all, you’re not removing a person from a job, you’re reallocating a resource, which sounds a lot friendlier. Who can fault you for that?

But I think referring to a person as a resource is problematic in two ways:
  1. People are more than their monetary value. (See “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to IT, say TechRepublic members.”)
  2. IT workers are fiercely independent. They do understand their monetary value, but view it as their value, not yours. You may find they’re perfectly capable of reallocating their own resource—i.e., themselves—right out of your company and over to a competitor.

Instead, use words that describe what you’re really doing: You’re hiring, firing, or reassigning a person. For instance, read how eliminating the jargon helps improve the statement below:

With buzzword: “John, we need to reallocate some resources on this project.”

Without buzzword: “John, I think your skills would be more useful to team B. What do you think?” Adjust your language attitude.
Check out these buzzword Web sites:
My people
I once heard an IT professional complain that his business partners were stealing "hispeople." The IT professional said he was so tired of turnover, he decided to require his partners to sign a contract agreeing not to hire "his people." He said that the contract was necessary because he was sick of training new employees then having someone "steal them."

I couldn’t help wondering if "his people" hadn’t left of their own accord, if for no other reason than to show him they really were not "his people" at all.

You may train people. You may pay them well. You may give them company cars, sports tickets, and stock options. But you may not own them. Instead, refer to workers as employees, use their names, and lose the notion that because someone works for you, you are entitled to control them.

Bob Artner’s column, Artner’s Law, returns next week.

Just tell me if I’m getting a pink slip
If you are a cattle farmer, and you send steers to feedlots, you are reducing headcount. During the French Revolution, the people reduced royal headcount. The word "headcount" conjures up rather gruesome images.

Other offensive misnomers for firing include:
  • De-hiring
  • Downsizing
  • Involuntary separation

Of course, nobody wants to hear they’ve been fired or laid off, but why add insult to injury by using terms that offend a person’s sense and sensibilities? Management should simply say that the employees were fired or laid off.

I think people appreciate a direct and honest approach. When you’re in a leadership role, that’s one way to earn respect. And without the respect of your coworkers, you might as well hang up your management hat. Maybe you’d like to consider a new career? How about selling “pre-owned” cars?
Tired of taking conversations “offline"? Sick of being asked about “deliverables"? If you have a management or IT buzzword you can’t stand, e-mail us the term and an explanation of why you’d like to "downsize" it from the business lexicon, or post your comment.