Alternatives to ‘re-humanizing’ business jargon

Businesses have seemed bound and determined to call employees anything but people in recent years. Here are some ways to buck that trend.

It’s January, and for many of us it’s time to complete our annual self-assessments and undergo another round of performance reviews.

No matter how good a writer you are or how adept you are at crafting messages, it’s never easy to complete a self-assessment. Choose the wrong words, and you might not get a raise.

If only executives thought so carefully about words—particularly the words they use to describe the people who work for them. We’ve all been on the receiving end of a message that made us feel less like a human being and more like a replaceable part in the corporate machine.

Here are some examples, along with alternatives that can “rehumanize” the message.


“Employees are our most valuable resource.” “Let’s throw some resources at it.” “Resource” can refer to a server, a stapler, or a person. Instead, try, “Employees provide the most value to the company,” or, “Let’s assign additional staff to work on it.” That way, you acknowledge that people are different from staplers.

Human capital
(Also human assets)

“Capital” and “assets” refer to things that can be counted on a spreadsheet, things that the accounting department and the IRS are concerned with. The people who spend 40-plus hours per week working for your company are people. Call them employees or staff.

Work units

“30 work units constitute the copy desk.” I’ve even seen “work units” used to describe departments within an organization. “We have 20 work units in R&D right now.”

This term is understandable if your workers are assembly line robots, like those used to make cars, but not if people work for you. Again, just call them employees or staff, or talk about your organization’s departments.

Direct reports
(Also subordinates)

“Managers are responsible for passing the information along to their direct reports.” This one has always puzzled me. I think of “reports” as written or spoken descriptions of an event. Reports are something you turn in to your boss. How did reports turn into people?

When describing the people who work for you, speak like a human being and use plain language. Cut the dehumanizing jargon and treat people like people, not tools you can leverage or assets on a spreadsheet.

Ragan readers, any examples of dehumanizing language you would like to share?

Laura Hale Brockway is an Austin-based writer and editor. Read more of her work at

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