Get Rid of Employees … and Connect with People

          “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”

                                                                      – William Shakespeare, from “Romeo and Juliet”

Did Shakespeare have it right – implying that what matters is what something is, not what it is called?  I don’t think so, at least not universally. Words with similar meanings can send very different messages. They can inspire and motivate; and they can also, unknowingly, annoy or discourage. Thus, what something or someone is called does matter, and I believe it matters a lot!  For example, from Websters Dictionary:

Employee – a person employed for wages or salary, especially at the nonexecutive level

People – /plural: human beings making up a group or assembly or linked by a common interest

As you can see, Employee and People are comparable words; but in a business context they are also very different. For example, would you rather be described as a unit of labor … or an individual appreciated for your uniqueness? Similarly, as leaders, do we want to send a message that implies co-workers are just another payroll item for the organization, or, that they are distinct people who belong to a valuable group linked together by a common interest?

The difference is revealing and instructive. It’s important to recognize that “people” in companies are valuable contributors – who contribute critical time and effort i.e., themselves, to make a company successful. And when they feel appreciated and valued, they continue to contribute without cajoling. However, sterile units or labor, real or perceived, do not.

Therefore, I think it’s time to rid the business language of “employee” (and the impersonal mindset that accompanies it) and replace it with something more descriptive, engaging and meaningful to the individual. For example, co-worker, teammate, colleague, partner, are all more inclusive and deserving of being linked to a common interest. “People” of course works well in just about any situation; my favorite is Peeps – i.e. I’m a peep, you’re a peep, we are all peeps working together, through ups and downs, making our company better.

Keep in mind that getting rid of the word “employee” is just a start – akin to posting word-smithed value statements on the company bulletin board – i.e., good intentions that require execution. However, following through with supportive action and embracing a mindset that stimulates high regard for all people, will propel a company to new levels of participation and achievement. And that, my fellow peeps, begins with respect and dignity for all …

What do you think? Is it time we ban the word “employee” from our business vocabulary? If you believe it is, please forward this post to one of your peeps who needs a nudge. Let’s make the change!