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Employees, and other livestock

How you refer to the people who work in your company sets the whole tone of your communication – do you wish to talk down to people?

cow-fieldYou (or your company) claim to value your people. At least, in your HR policies, that’s what you say, yes? You value diversity, experience, loyalty and feedback. That’s how your CEO talks about the benefits of an engaged workforce, am I right?

So why do we refer to ‘them‘ as cattle? How come we write about ‘them’ as livestock, as assets, as resources to be redistributed as the lean and agile organisation requires?

When we’re writing on behalf of the company, it’s so easy to slip into a ‘them and us’ mindset. So many company representatives inadvertently talk down to their colleagues,  referring to everyone outside of the management board as ’employees’.

‘Employee’ is a cold, blunt word, with little respect or value attached to it. Notice how legally minded people will say ‘Directors would like to remind all employees that…’ as if Directors themselves are not employed by the company. (Manager Owners, of course, may not be.)

Those people in Human Resources often write their communications as if the announcement is falling from heaven on to the great unwashed masses: ‘Employees should note that…’

It’s arrogant, and divisive.

In the average company, we are all employees, so it makes no sense to verbally separate the ‘author’ or the Directors from other people. We’re all employed. Plus, we are people first and employees second.

As communicators, when we write to ’employees’ we disown the communication – we’re hiding behind the company and saying ‘oh this isn’t from me, I’m just passing this on from the company’. As professional communicators, we should have the guts to own the communication, and be part of the company, and part of the workforce. We are the company, we are employees, and we are still people.

When I read a message that uses the word ’employee’ in it, I wonder who the writer means to differentiate ‘employees’ from. No one outside the company is receiving this message, so just why is it necessary to say ’employees’?

Directors are employees, managers are employees, shop floor workers are employees. We’re all colleagues, we’re all people. The internal audience is a closed audience, there’s no need to specify ’employee’, and there’s no need to differentiate the Directors – unless you’re saying that they are exempt from the Paternity Policy you’re writing about? I didn’t think so.

I’m not saying we have to be so informal that we’re all sat on beanbags in jeans; I’m saying that the word ’employee’ is cold, blunt and redundant when inside the company.

If you want to replace all instances of the word ’employees’ with ‘colleagues’ or ‘people’ you’ll make a vast difference to the tone of your internal articles. Only contractual messages should refer to people like cattle.

[Wedge]
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