Hi HR Friends, Employees are Not “Resources”


Hi HR Friends, Employees are Not “Resources”

Illustration: Arati Gujar

Afew years ago, I worked in a dyed-in-the-wool corporate set up, and the most common question managers could be heard asking each other around the office was, “Do you have a resource?”

Managers keep begging for resources like friends asking for your hotspot when their 4G fails. Now, the word resource in this context doesn’t mean oil, water, or natural gas, neither is it a discussion about the controversial Iran nuclear deal. They’re talking about employees; human beings with hopes and dreams, at least until Google finds a way to replace them with code and algorithms.

In corporate culture, there is a tendency at management levels to refer to employees as “resources”. For our corporate overlords, we are just robots who exist to help them achieve their quarterly financial goals. But never compare yourself to a robot in front of your boss, he’ll quickly tell you how robots never make mistakes or take leave. “You’re not even Muslim, why do you want a day off for Eid?”

Apart from calculators, computers, and coffee machines, even people are now merely resources. Managers keep track of the resources they have and where they are engaged. Slavery may be dead but you are literally their property. Managers allocate resources to different projects. If a resource is wasting time or is incapable, they move him from one project to another, like corrupt cops who are merely transferred, not terminated. Managers classify them as “good resources” and “bad resources”. Good resources get to travel to New York for work, bad resources get clients in Chakan and Baroda.

Names are so 1837, why try to learn and call out someone with a unique word that is only meant to be associated with that person for the rest of their life?

The profitability of the project is based on whether the resources were efficient. This analysis helps managers project how many resources to allocate next year. You, as a resource only exist to help achieve that goal. There is no place here for your colourful personality and unique traits that could enrich the organisation in more ways than one.  

This single-minded focus on resource and the culture of dehumanisation of the living being has ensured that management and executive are as alienated from each other as the political parties in the Mahagathbandhan.

On occasions, this heartless species known as “managers-and-above” don’t even bother to learn the names of their team-members. Like a pack of biscuits in a supermarket, you are known by labels like the service line, department, and which team leader you work under. Managers who feel guilty about their behaviour end up making excuses like, “Sorry, I’m not good with names”. I don’t have proof but I think the reason Kanye West changed his name to Ye is so that his managers can no longer give excuses about forgetting his name. Brash ones don’t even think twice before addressing someone as a resource right to their face. “Give me this resource if she’s free,” they say, like you’re a coupon code on a food app.

Names are so 1837, why try to learn and call out someone with a unique word that is only meant to be associated with that person for the rest of their life? What if they accidentally get motivated and work with enthusiasm, knowing they are personally valued? That’s not what the corporate experience is supposed to be about. The corporate experience is all about being treated like a pathetic shit, and having miserable working hours to make money you don’t have time to spend. And the best way to do it is to refer to a human being with the same word you can use for a stapler.

Addressing people as resources is a way to strip them of their individuality and dehumanise them, an emotion aptly captured by Charles Dickens in Hard Times, a novel set in the Industrial Revolution where workers slaving under dreadful conditions were referred to as The Hands. Maybe, just maybe, if management along with HR made it a point to have a more personal approach towards their employees, it might result in better productivity output and fruitful, long-lasting relationships. And there wouldn’t be separate WhatsApp groups where employees (below manager level, of course) bitch about their managers all day.

A start to fixing that, would be to learn names and address people by them. Shakespeare asked hundreds of years ago, “What’s in a name?” The answer, finally, is a lot.