People are NOT Resources – how to change your language

The lovely people I worked with in my previous role. (Photo: James Kemp)

People are not resources, so if you mean people then say people. People are not possessions or interchangeable parts to be consumed or exploited, and the language we use needs to recognise that.

Emily Webber wrote about this back in 2018, I saw her tweet at the time and made some stickers for my team in DWP. I’d already addressed it directly in My Expectations of Leaders, but hadn’t quite got as succinct as Emily did.

We should be treating everyone fairly, and being fully inclusive as standard behaviour. I think the Black Lives Matter, and the removal of racist statues shows that. Part of what we can do is to use language that humanises everyone, especially those that have been disadvantaged in any way.  The language we use shapes how we think, and if we really want to be the compassionate, inclusive, sort of person that we should be then the use of ‘resource’ (when we mean a person) needs to go. There are other things, but one topic at a time.

People are not Resources – better language

There’s a difficulty in a lot of the terms that we use to refer to people that we employ, some of them are similarly problematic, anything that dehumanises people is wrong. I think that ‘resource’ is one of the worst. It makes people feel consumable, which is certainly not how we ought to be thinking.

Here are some practical examples of how you can change the language, and the thinking.

‘Resource’ ‘Person’
I need a resource for this job. I need someone to do this job. (If you can also mention the skills you need, that way it helps whoever you are asking to understand who they are looking for).
How do we resource this team? How will we recruit people into this team?

What skills do we need in this team?

Do we have enough people?

What’s the resourcing picture? How many people do we have in the team?
Body I don’t think we need any corpses in the workplace, use ‘person’.
Human Resources People and Capability (NB lots of former HR departments have been re-branding as P&C over the last few years).
FTE (Full-Time Equivalent) Fine as a measure of job size, not OK as a noun. Ask how many people you need, or the size of the role.
Staff Implies subservience, better to use ‘colleague’. (Employee is fine if you need to refer to status versus volunteers, shareholders/owners)

PS if you have any more suggestions, either cases where you can’t see an alternative for ‘resource’ or positive suggestions drop me a line

When is it OK to say Resource?

Resource is useful in some circumstances, it’s a group noun. So if you have a collection of different things that could be useful the collection is a resource. If those are inanimate and reusable, then use resource. E.g. training materials, engineering plant, etc. It’s also OK for money, equipment, etc.

Just don’t use it when you are talking about people. People are not resources.

Share the message

One of the stickers I made “If you mean People, say people (not resources)”. (image: James Kemp)

I made a load of stickers up on this theme a few years back, and distributed them to my team and people I came into contact with. If you’d like some there’s a print-ready PDF of the ‘If you mean people say people (not resources)” stickers that I can share.

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