Let’s end the ‘flesh expenditure management’ approach to HR

With Flexible Working Day approaching, Quiip's Venessa Paech challenges workplaces to stop thinking of their employees as resources, and start thinking of them as humans.

This Wednesday is Flexible Working Day. And it’s time to ditch the term ‘human resources’ and stop treating people like commodities.

The term ‘human resources’, seems particularly relevant as automation and AI rise to shoulder more of our working load. But people are not commodities to be exploited. A friend on Twitter recently suggested it may as well be called “flesh expenditure management”. He’s not wrong.

Thinking about humans as a commodity first and foremost means we’ll struggle to implement any true flexibility in a work setting, as transactional pressures will always trump that. Human resources is simplistic, reductive thinking, and breeds the type of division at work we’ve seen before: parents versus non-parents, men versus women.

Who offers the most bang for buck in terms of output?

If you want efficiency, get a machine. If you want creative complexity and emotional nuance, value and invest in the humans who work for you.

Think about the diverse ways your people can contribute value to your business. You’re on a journey together, and it doesn’t need to be a regimented one to succeed.

Consider how people in other industries frame participation instead – sports people aren’t resources, they’re teammates with distinct strengths that complement each other in ways that improve the game for everyone.

We need to draw on this, and other models, to frame our working lives. The old way seems an assured race to the bottom, where burnout awaits.

We can’t compete with machines, and we shouldn’t.

Instead, we need to be smart about how and where humans can add value, and refuse to buy into an anti-human agenda where flexibility is a risk to profit. True flexibility is a social contract with your people to help them be their best, and realise a shared purpose. It means thinking about roles themselves differently, and challenging how they’re designed.

Commoditising people is last century thinking. The future is, must be, human.

Venessa Paech is a community consultant at Quiip


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