Why is Today “#WorldNoResourcesDay” and Why Do Words Matter?

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 8.54.42 PMI learned about this the other today via Twitter (hat tip to @agile_memes), but today is “World No Resources Day” (see hashtag #WorldNoResourcesDay). See the small website at http://worldnoresourcesday.com/ and their thoughts on “why should I join in?

I’m not sure who is behind this. It’s probably not some Communist May Day thing. Maybe it is. Even if it were that, I’d still agree that it’s not cool to dehumanize people by calling them “resources.” I don’t often agree with Communists since they hate Lean (or maybe they’re actually complaining about L.A.M.E. and Taylorism), but I digress.

The one call to action on this day is to remind people not to call people “resources.”

You might say, “Well, it’s just a word.” But, words have meaning and an impact.

I support #WorldNoResourcesDay - treat people like people Click To Tweet

Even going back to my college internship days at Ford, I cringed and balked at the dehumanizing terms that would be used for people in the workplace.

These terms include not just “resources” but also “heads” and “warm bodies.” It’s ironic that old school managers sometimes refer to people as “heads” when they’re not engaging peoples heads and brains in the workplace.

“I was just hired for my arms and my back,” said a person at GM once (this person was an hourly employee and UAW member).

I’ve heard some in healthcare that the term “staff” is somewhat dehumanizing. I guess I’ve used that term “staff” and haven’t felt too bad about it.

Toyota calls employees “team members.” Starbucks calls their baristas “partners.” IU Health Goshen Hospital makes a point (starting with their now retired CEO who we interviewed for Healthcare Kaizen) of calling employees “colleagues.” The CEO calling people “colleagues” (as opposed to “subordinates,” an awful term) sends a strong message about how people should treat each other in the workplace.

I think when we use terms that dehumanize people, it’s unfortunately easier to treat them badly or fire them. Maybe that’s why numbers-driven managers use euphamisms.

Instead of having to “fire people” we can “do a RIF”, “make some resources redundant,” or “terminate” them (ugh, there’s a violent term).

It should be painful to fire people. When you’re a business owner or an executive, it’s a burden and a responsibility – and one that should be taken seriously. You’re not just “maximizing shareholder value,” you’re affecting somebody’s life and paycheck. It shouldn’t be taken lightly.

What do you think about workplace terms for people? What are terms that you’ve found to be ugly and which are words that are positive? Or is this whole discussion a waste of time? Leave a comment and chime in…

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Mark Graban's passion is creating a better, safer, more cost effective healthcare system for patients and better workplaces for all. Mark is a consultant, author, and speaker in the "Lean healthcare" methodology. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent project is an eBook titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

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3 Comments on "Why is Today “#WorldNoResourcesDay” and Why Do Words Matter?"

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  1. John Hunter
    Twitter:
    says:

    The more I hear people talk about not using the term resources the more I think people like how easy it is to complain about the term. How about talking about actions that are detrimental and actions that are useful.

    At least you do talk about that some in this post.

    I don’t notice any difference in how those that use the term resources and how those that don’t use it act. I guess other believe there is a difference. I see people that learned to not use the term resources still use all the other silly rhetoric like RIF etc.

    It seems to me the term resources is mostly a Rorschach test – there is nothing negative about the term. We use many descriptor for people in many instances: child, doctor, farmer, ancestor, student, artist, athlete, customers, users… These are not meant to deny the humanness of people. They are terms that come in handy.

    I don’t have any problem eliminating the term resources for people it isn’t critical in any way I can think of. It just seems like a big distraction to focus on the term when it seems what we need is management systems that provide respect for people. If the term embodies behavior and attitudes that need to be changed lets change those. And sure drop the term if you want but that seems like a tiny thing to get worked up about. I can understand why we have dropped other terms because they are demeaning. I don’t understand how resources came to be seen as a demeaning term. I do understand how the management behavior of many companies in the past 100 years have been demeaning and they might have happened to use the term resources but I don’t think it is in any way a cause of those behaviors (and if it is in some way, I can’t imagine it is in anything but a tiny tiny way a “cause”(either the management system has respect for people or it doesn’t swapping in or out that term isn’t going to change it).

    I understand that sometimes the terms we use can shape the way people think. I can accept the claim that resources could be such a term. But when I then evaluate that from my experience it it has not been (since so many people complain about the term I paid attention to the use of the term and the actions and I don’t see any correlation – though I will admit my sample isn’t large enough to be certain of anything).

    But I suppose maybe others may have seen cases where changing what term was used made a difference (though I suspect it is really just that it is easy to complain about a term so lets do that). I do understand that creating a culture can be enhanced with jargon that the culture uses to hang ideas onto – so changing from employees to colleagues and emphasize the changes in the management system. But changing the terms themselves do nothing, in my experience, and in fact just make people ridicule the idea since it is so obviously transparent in most cases that the terms are changing but that is it.

    I can see how lots of management has been pretty lousy towards employees. And so we can look at whatever terms they are using as not like them and focus on changing them. I don’t think it will help. Changing the management system to encourage respect for people is what matters.

    Yes treating people as replaceable cogs is bad. Getting people to substitute various phrases with the word people in them where resources has been used now not going to help change things, in my opinion.

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