YOU HEAR THIS all the time: “Our employees are our most valuable resource!”

It’s supposed to make you feel better as an employee.  You know what?  I don’t see that it works.  But to figure out why, we need to tear apart that word “resource.”

noun \ˈrē-ˌsȯrs, -ˌzȯrs, ri-ˈ\
: something that a country has and can use to increase its wealth
: a supply of something (such as money) that someone has and can use when it is needed
: a place or thing that provides something useful
— Merriam-Webster online

What’s missing from this definition?  The sense that the resource has honor, dignity, and inherent value.

I’ve seen other definitions which state that a resource might be money, goods, or people – but honestly, that doesn’t make me feel any better.  A resource is something which is meant to be used to provide some utility.  If it’s used up, well, it has no more utility and should be discarded from consideration.

As a society, we’ve made some progress on the concept that resources are to be preserved – but that is almost exclusively tied to scarce natural resources.  Sunlight isn’t particularly scarce, so we don’t think about preserving it.  In many places, rainwater isn’t preserved, because there’ll be more arriving tomorrow.

People shouldn’t be thought of that way.  People, especially those with whom you’ve developed a relationship of employment and value delivery, have an inherent dignity.  We should never consider them to be something which is to be used up.

So what about “Our employees are our most valuable asset?”  Sorry, but this still doesn’t do it for me.  An asset is something that just sits there – a lump of gold, a factory machine, a building.  When it no longer has utility, it’s time to throw it out and replace it.

Which is really the root of the problem here:  We shouldn’t think about people as something which is properly meant to be used up and thrown away.

What these statements really communicate is that company leaders don’t really care about employees as persons, just the fleeting value which they can provide to the business.  That’s dipping, for whatever reason?  We don’t care – fix it or leave.

What would be a creative way to communicate that you really DO care about your employees?  Well, try these on and see how they feel to you:

  • “We exist purely because we’re prized by our employees, customers, and shareholders.”
  • “Our employees are the way we stay in business, so we strive to create an inspiring workplace to engage their passion and dedication.”
  • “We constantly work to make this the best employer in the region, which helps each person to grow and achieve their goals.”
  • “Our employees provide the products and services which are prized by our customers.”

The real test, honestly, is what your employees say about what it’s like to work for the company.  In the same way as your brand is really defined by customers’ perceptions, your workers really define what the culture is.

What do you want your employees to say that your company culture is?