Your use of language speaks volumes about you

A leading international corporation knows it will face increasing competition in future. It wants to find ways to make its workforce more loyal, and begins work on an internal initiative which offers a series of promises to its team. Here’s how the initiative is explained to senior members of staff:

‘Across the employee lifecycle our behaviours, process and communications will help talent connect with the employee brand.’

Just take a closer look at that.

What’s this ’employee lifecycle’? It’s as if employees are some lower life form, perhaps a moth, starting out as an egg (a trainee?), moving on to the larva, passing through the pupa, before eventually becoming an adult (that would be management). Not exactly heartwarming.

And what about ‘helping talent connect with the employee brand’? Talent? Connect with the brand?

Remember, this is about people, emotions and values. It’s about encouraging people to believe that the company they work for is worthwhile. And it talks about people as ‘talent’. Consider that for a moment. ‘Talent’ describes a person not for what they are, or what they feel, or they effort they put in, but purely by their skills – the things they can do for the company. OK, to be fair, there’s something positive about calling people ‘talent’ rather than ‘workers’, but it’s still a weirdly abstract term, like calling people ‘ability’ or ‘skill’. ‘Helping skill connect with the employee brand’. Pretty inhuman.

What about ’employees’ – how’s that for a way of talking about human beings? Sounds as though it defines a person by their employment status. To paraphrase it: ‘You work for us’. Almost sounds like ‘We own you’.

In this sentence, where’s the sense that we’re talking about human beings with hopes and fears, likes and dislikes, trust and doubts?

If you treat people like this in your language, it doesn’t bode well for how you treat them in your actions. Your words speak volumes about your attitudes. HR and management really need to learn this lesson.

People matter. Units of operation, talent, employees, skill, creatures with lifecycles – this is dehumanising language. And the point is, you need to treat your people in more human, more humane ways if you’re to hold on to them. Talk about people as people, and you might get somewhere.