Do you recollect the multiple choice questions you handled in tests? And the number of times you were sorely tempted to ask for the option “None of the above”?
This is how I feel about the futile arguments on the question – Is the employee a resource, an asset, an investment or…?
Labels seem to spring up anew, when all we need to know and call them by what they really are – people, human beings!
Let us strike out the word resources right away. Are they mined? Are they to be controlled to produce economic value for an organization? And discarded when not useful? Ugh..sounds like bonded slavery!
Assets? Hmmm…certainly sounds better! This perhaps pushes organizations to create a culture and atmosphere where employees feel valued, and so return value in fair measure. From their selection to nurture, the organization pays greater attention to them. Understanding and tiering them in terms of capabilities, providing the right platforms to map and support different levels of capabilities to organizational talent needs give both the employee and the organization the competitive edge.
Yet something rankles with this definition. As well-meaning the thought may be in terming employees as assets, the following fundamental ironies still loom.
We invest in assets with a firm intent that we own them. And that the return they give must exceed what we invest in them. With employees, organizations are damned if they want to own them (damned more with such perceived one-sided expectations), and damned worse if employees think that their employers display no ownership of them. And that pretty much rules out thinking of employees as investments too.
Even the best performing assets do only what they were invested in to do. When even continuous improvement becomes a pipe dream, creativity? Heck, that is not even in its lexicon!
And now to the final irony. Both in good and bad times, employees are reflected as expenses on the income statement and as liabilities in the balance sheet. And when the going is less than good, employees are as ready to take flight as employers are ready to cut their…losses! Yessir, that is how assets and investments are realistically treated.
So let us cut to reality. Employees are not a company’s resources, assets, investments or any newer romantic jargons that may be coined. They are people, they are humans, in fact, they are the organization! They are the brand value of an organization, they are the stock prices that are traded – by inventing products, serving customers and creating value. While lauding the attempts of certain organizations to quantify this value, this is still but a fraction of the employee as a whole.
It will do well for organizations to take a lesson or two from the fundamental rules of life and relationships. Let us start by calling them by their right names – human beings. Excellence of economics or savviness in taking business to successful peaks need not take a back seat in so considering employees – in fact, it may just add value to the pursuit of excellence. Employment is a two way street – such sensible relationship building may help eliminate angst between the user and used, the victor and the vanquished, and the “us” and the “them”.