The Chronicle

of a ColdFusion Expatriate

Stop Calling People Resources

July 27, 2021

This is the Merriam-Webster definition:

re·source, n.

  1. a source of supply or support: an available means—usually used in plural
  2. a natural source of wealth or revenue—often used in plural
  3. a natural feature or phenomenon that enhances the quality of human life
  4. computable wealth—usually used in plural
  5. a source of information or expertise

Huh, that’s weird. Nowhere in there does it say “a human member of a team or organization.” So why do people insist on dehumanizing their colleagues by referring to them as “a resource?”

It all starts with project management.

The project management discipline teaches frameworks for understanding and executing complex plans, and through that lens, it’s easier to think of humans abstractly, as “an available means” in the above definition. This apparently caught on, and you’ll witness others (mostly in leadership roles) using the word “resource” to refer to a human being.

In the aggregate, abstractly, when talking about hypothetical plans or future org structures, it makes some sense to group “our cloud-based architecture,” and “500 laptops,” and “a team of 20 engineers,” and “5 senior product managers” together as so many resources.

But people aren’t fungible, they aren’t interchangeable, they aren’t even specifically measurable (a topic for another post).

Each human is unique, and even when hired to do the same specifically defined job, they are unlike anyone else who does it, or anyone who will ever do it.

When you manage in the abstract and group people together as “an available means,” you rob yourself of the value of working with people. Not only is it insulting and dehumanizing, it’s limiting.

So stop calling people “resources.”