Is the term Human Resource really so bad?

Quite often I hear people complain when somebody uses the term Human Resource(s). Many people around me spontaneously add: „It’s not about resources but people!“. It seems to be a reflex. In this context I was just baffled, because I have not understood why this information is important. Why I was puzzled? Because in my previous perception I interpreted the term Resource always as „Capability to do something, a source of ideas and potential“. I thought this term is „innocent“ and that it is Ok to use it, if one simply relates it to its original meaning and check the Etymology of the word Resource.

Spoiler alert:I failed to rescue the reputation of HR.

The latin origin of the word Resource

So let’s have a look at the origin of the word Resource. states (this is the best summary I found after checking various lexicons):

1610s, „means of supplying a want or deficiency,“ from French resourse „a source, spring,“ noun use of fem. past participle of Old French resourdre „to rally, raise again,“ from Latin resurgere „rise again“.

At first it is interesting to notice that the original meaning of the term got lost, since nowadays the word is used for things which can’t replenish itself  (like coal, gas, oil – and if they replenish it takes gazillion of years). Originally it is related to entities which have a certain quality which enables them to maintain their own existence by regenerating themself in a given environment. That sounds pretty much like the definition of a viable system! LOL 🙂

Therefore it might be even better to speak of humans as resources, because humans can grow – and this it not measured by size or weight, but of course by discovering the individual potential and creating „a good living“…

Unfortunately this interpretation fails … since human beings are unique – and do not regenerate apples or milk like a tree or a cow. The following paraphrased quote originates from a conversation with Siggi Becker about this topic.

„If Picasso dies, he is gone. There is no Picasso anymore. This talent is unlike anything else. There is nothing to resurrect. Artists are not resources.“

With this in mind I realized that the term Human Resource is really not appropriate. I tried to rescue it with Etymology, but I failed.

The bad reputation of the term is clear.

Proposal for a differentiated view on Human Resources

Nevertheless we need to find a representational/semantic solution, because the functions/operations of the UFKAHR (Unit Formerly Know As HR) are still needed. And it needs somehow a name – and sometimes the solution can be found in the appropriate terminology.

Proposal: Split the term into two parts which describe the basic functions of UFKAHR:

  1. The aspect of the development of capabilities (= creative problem solving). -> VSM Systems 4/5
  2. The „boring“ but necessary part of administrative tasks like payment, hire, fire, etc. -> VSM Systems 1/2/3/3*

The first aspect could be named Human Capabilities, People Development or something similar.

The second aspect could be called Employee Administration, People Management or what ever fits to describe this kind of tasks.

The overarching term for these constructs could be „Human Potential Area“ – just to give an example. I know only of a few organizations that have renamed HR – at first I was skeptical about it, but finally I understood why HR does not work.

I am curious if one of the readers have some real world examples. Would be very glad if you comment on this – this is part of my research for the 5th book.  🙂


PS: I am aware that this implies Bullshit Alert, but I take the risk. I just would like to collect ideas.