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From ‘Personnel’ to ‘Human Resource’: The HRD Name Game Is Revealing

19/07/2017 9:41 AM IST | Updated 19/07/2017 9:41 AM IST
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My father began his service in the Personnel Department of a Maharatna PSU and retired from the Human Resource Department of the same PSU. Throughout his career he had worked in the same department, so this nomenclatural shift had always intrigued me.

Then, his diary always had words such as 'man-power' and 'welfare' scribbled in it, and I had always had this notion that 'people' are the most important 'thing' for an office to run effectively. This idea of mine was consolidated by an anecdote that my father told me. One of his friends was in the hospitality industry in what was then called Bombay. On the day his father died, he continued to attend to guests in his restaurants as it was his duty to do so. He felt that it was imperative for him to 'control' his 'emotions', as that was the kind of 'training' that the 'hospitality industry' had imparted to him.

On the day his father died, he continued to attend to guests in his restaurants as it was his duty to do so.

However, when I grew up and started working, I realized that 'people' shouldn't be 'things' for a company but integral members who cannot be reduced to terms such as CTC and RoI. In part, this realisation was brought upon by the fact that, as per the informal protocol, I had to pronounce my designation and 'scale' while introducing myself and my job profile to someone. Probably, that's when the stark fact of being a 'human resource' truly dawned upon me. And that's when I started telling others, "The designation does not matter, in so far as I do what I love."

Some newer companies are taking baby steps towards changing their approach to their employees, but fact remains that most companies in India have yet to fathom that humans are more than 'resources', physical or otherwise.

Recently, the Economic Times came out with its annual list of India's best companies to work for. Looking at the 'complete list', as it was called, I wondered how difficult it would be for a body/forum/agency to first freeze the selection parameters and then adjudge the best companies in India to work for. Especially, when a plethora of MNCs and umpteen new start-ups are mushrooming every other day and employing lakhs of people. It is a fact that we rely on such reports to pick a dream-company to work for. The reports also serve as a guide for us to develop our own workplaces accordingly, if we get the opportunity to do it.

As per the informal protocol, I had to pronounce my designation and 'scale' while introducing myself and my job profile to someone.

While the majority of workplaces in India have undergone many jargonised rejigs to drive competitive advantages and become 'world-class', intriguingly during such exercises, hardly any company in India has undertaken a progressive attitude-shift in how it views its 'people'.

Other than umpteen policy level changes and modifications that have just affected leaves, working hours, wages, and promotions, organisations in India are yet to touch 'quality-driven' variables — one of which is unlearning, learning and relearning the suffix 'resources' after 'human'.

'Resources', literally, is anything that can be drawn upon by a person or an organisation to run it effectively. The dictionary meaning of resource also implies that a resource could be a stock or supply of money, materials, staff, and other assets that can be drawn on by a person or organisation in order to function effectively. Hence, it can be inferred that when humans become resources, they are being drawn on by other humans who utilise them to run an organisation effectively.

Doesn't the term 'resource' suffixed to human, demean the value of a human, who is much more than a bundle of flesh and bones?

As the Class 9 Economics text book by NCERT puts it, 'People as Resource' are country's 'working people' in terms of their existing productive skills and abilities. Human resource is an asset for the economy rather than a liability. When resources in the form of education, training and medical care are invested in the population, it becomes human capital.

Doesn't the term 'resource' suffixed to human, demean the value of a human, who is much more than a bundle of flesh and bones? We, as humans, are being broken down to quantifiable variables such as liability, asset, investment, and human capital.Like physical assets such as land, building, plant and machinery, the human workforce in India is quantified and tabulated in accounting registers. Human Resource Accountancy measures human output in a manner similar to a machine's output — our work is accounted for against tickets raised or the WIPs that we are supposed to send by every Friday evening.

This approach is transforming us into mobile machines that can talk, walk, listen and have emotions too. No wonder then that last year, 46% of the workforce in Indian firms was suffering from stress.

I don't have any easy solutions but we have to begin by acknowledging that there is a problem. Maybe, we should start with just a change in nomenclature. Come to think of it, 'Personnel Department' sounds much better.

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