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Name Calling at Work

Name Calling at Work


It seems Corporate America uses impersonal names to prevent emotional attachment to their people. Especially companies that layoff at the first sign of economic trouble. One of the worst cases of improper name usage, in my opinion, is calling employees “assets.”  There are thousands of company lobbies with the following statement on a nicely framed poster: “Our employees are the company’s greatest asset.” If employees were their greatest asset, they would eliminate toxic work environments and layoffs?

Asset? Really? When I think of an asset, other items come to mind. Like a company owned truck in the parking lot. With a key, you can jump in a truck, drive to customer locations and deliver products. You don’t use a key with employees to start them. You don’t run them through the truck wash once a week. Although they may require maintenance, it is usually from a doctor or health practitioner, not a mechanic. Companies own, depreciate and sell assets. Do you want to be owned by a company?

Jason Bourne of the hit action movie series is called an asset and he kills people for a living. To make it more interesting, he is chased by other assets who are trying to kill him. I suppose we could draw a comparison between Jason Bourne and corporate employees using company politics to kill the careers of their internal competition. There are millions of people who have been “Bourned” and belong to the corporate Jason Bourne club. But this is beside the point.

You may be thinking, “Kennemer, what do you suggest we call employees?” I like using their name in groups or meetings. Since most companies require security badges anyway, require the badges to be  worn on their shirt with their name in big enough letters to associate their name and face. In very large groups, I would not recommend the CEO address the crowd by saying, “Welcome humans!” or “Thank you for your great work, underlings!” (I actually worked for someone who called her employees underlings.)

Many companies have opted to change the name of their Human Resources Department to the People Department. I like that. Technically, we are mammals, but we don’t call it the Mammal Department.  Employees are people with names who have families, friends, loved ones, and dogs and cats. I call my dogs, Happy and Holly, by their name. I don’t say, “Fetch the ball, canines!”

Below are the names corporations use to de-personalize people.

 Blue Collar – Help – Human Capital

Human Resources – Labor – Personnel

Subordinate – Underling – White Collar

If you have other names, please take a couple of minutes and add them in our comments section.


Kevin Kennemer is founder of The People Group based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Kevin is driven by his passion for company owners and their need to earn a profit, employees' desire for a positive and fulfilling work experience, and the community that benefits when both groups do well.


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