The problem with the term is its possessive use. Our employees, the employees, all of our... [corporate name]’s employees ... Our greatest asset ... the condescension in that phrase comes from its ownership. Assets are owned and have no life of their own except in that ownership. Along with Mungo, our greatest assets are pawns in the game of life, the company’s life, to be moved around from title to title, desk to desk, factory, city ... full-time, part-time.
Yeah, I know. It’s tricky finding another term. We’re all busy. Who has the time to jump through the linguistic wordsmithing hoops to conjure a term that doesn’t sound nauseate the listener or reader with its pandering political correctness.
I’ve struggled with this in writing about business since ... 2004. I cringed, still do, using the term employee though I use it often. It’s the accepted term, after all.
However, like you, I work with friends, neighbors, colleagues. We work with people smarter and more talented than we are in lots of areas. Then and now. Their success is our success. Throughout our time together, we look good because they were/are great at their work, their passion, their commitment and professionalism.
My value-add was humor, support, clarity (We’re going here ... and I point.), persistence-insistence, the willingness to be the nail that not only gets knocked down but keeps popping up, forgiveness and its reminder we are all in this together and ... yeah, some accountability.
I use the terms colleagues, co-workers, brand evangelists ... partners, customers, investors. Awkward. Distracting.
Chuck Blakeman described employees as a disease of the Industrial Age. Not the person, but the concept.
The Industrial Age gave us cool toys and a cushy life, but it also came with some business diseases. One of the most rabid of the seven core business diseases of the Industrial Age is the concept of an employee. It is a very new idea in the history of man, and one that needs to go away. Why Employees Are Always A Bad Idea.
I liked it, liked the no-frills, cut-to-the-chase blunt honesty.
He suggests owners. I like that idea. it works for those who are ready to take ownership of their work, their life, their contributions.
The question is are we ready to embrace that term? I can see using it now in blog posts and missives about employee engagement and the work culture. It would be confusing. Who's the owner, who's the manager, who's being managed, who's being blamed. That’s not to say we shouldn’t do things because they are confusing or disruptive. I’ve been known to do those things just because ... they were disruptive. Keep people sharp. Keep me sharp.
Again, the trick is ... how do you disrupt, leaving pieces functional enough to re-combine in a newer better fashion? How do we disrupt all this talk about ... ‘employees,’ while allowing more participation, more engagement, more fun, more work, more results, more rewards for more folks?
It will depend on the culture where we work and our willingness to listen and talk, argue and advocate and accomodate and compromise and get up with Jackson Browne and do it again, amen, so we can stop being the happy idiots, stop being The Pretender. We’re the owners or players or partners or stakeholders.
But we’ll be patient as we are persistent. The Industrial Age lasted, what, about 100 years? 100 years in, 100 years out. Maybe social media can help us converse and connect and conceive a new term, spread it real fast. Knock that timeline down to ... fifty years. Okay 10.
In the meantime here's Jackson Browne: