Philip Whiteley's Blog

September 23, 2016

Let’s abolish the term ‘human resources’

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 10:42 am

In the past 19 years I have written or co-written eight non-fiction books, hundreds of articles and dozens of blogs about business management. They’re all on the same theme; the link between humane and intelligent people management and better outcomes for the organization, and for society. There’s a huge research base demonstrating the links (there was a pretty good base of evidence back in 1997, when I started in this field). There are practical ways in which you can implement the findings and improve, even transform, your organization. Recently I have been working with Professor Vlatka Hlupic, who has created The Management Shift, and Rod Willis of Assentire, who developed the Innovation Audit.

Yet still, poor management persists. Arguably, it’s even the norm. Why is this? The main barrier we come across in this field is that the inner beliefs of many in senior management are that better leadership is an optional extra, and that ‘really’ you ought to be managing costs, and treating people as a disposable resource, if you want to be profitable. For some, almost no amount of evidence will shake this belief.

The fact that most organizations still have a department called ‘human resources’ or HR, shows just how reluctant the world of business is to modernise. As well as lacking an evidence base, the concept of the ‘human resource’ lacks even basic logic. Because that is not how a real organization operates. In the real world, it is people, as conscious agents, making decisions and using skills, who create an organization. A company uses resources, it doesn’t consist of them.

Using the term and the concept ‘human resources’ is inaccurate as well as dehumanizing. It has failed owners and managers as well as employees and society. Pretending that the company is a collection of resources, and that people are resources, are beliefs that are just wrong. As wrong as believing that the earth is flat or that blood-letting alleviates illness.

So, here’s a challenge. I can even imagine a petition: Let’s abolish the term ‘human resources’, and hopefully, ultimately, the flawed thinking that ever gave rise to this dreadful term, and the miserable working lives, poor returns, frustrated managers, low wages and low profits that have resulted from it.

If you agree, please share this blog!



  1. Hey Phil, 100% agree. People are not akin to pens or reams of paper. But it does make it easier (not right) but easier. I have noted that a few HR departments are evolving to “People & Culture” but perhaps in name only. As weird as it maybe, the term Personnel, is better than Human Resources, though I know that smacks a bygone era. Still … Good article, thank you.

    Comment by Bill — September 24, 2016 @ 2:31 am | Reply

  2. Thanks for your comments! Yes, I’ve been aware of a trickle of organizations renaming the department to People, or People & Culture. I very much approve. It’s mostly the underlying thinking that I would challenge, rather than the term HR itself, but the two are obviously linked! I’m not sure that it does make it easier, except perhaps in the short term, to treat people as disposable resources. You can store up resentments, and thereby operational problems …. Discuss.

    Comment by felipewh — September 24, 2016 @ 8:27 am | Reply

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