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ASSOCIUM Consultants is a strong proponent of knowledge sharing. Beyond this goal of knowledge sharing and encouraging client dialogue on topical issues within the HR spectrum we also think it’s important to give voice to dialogue at the [HR] function level.

Dialogue at this level serves many diagnostics purposes including an opportunity to challenge the status quo and push the learning curve on all things technical and/or procedural. It also allows HR professionals to re-calibrate/re-frame their approach to service delivery against the backdrop of changing business and legislative landscapes.

This month’s article by Michael Zroback, which reflects his personal opinion, combines both client and practitioner considerations. It touches on elements of language common to HR professionals in organizations across all sectors. Also, it discusses the impact of language (both implicit and explicit) on shaping workplace perceptions, interactions and policy formulation.

The article is a timely piece against the backdrop of Bills 168 and 132. If you are not familiar with these pieces of legislation, then hopefully this article will compel you to get a bit more curious. As always, we are just a knowledge sharing phone call away.

HR’s Violent Language

HR’s Violent Language

As HR Professionals, have we ever given much thought to the language we use to describe elements of our work? Many of us may have heard, if not used, such phrases as, “so & so was just fired”, or “so and so is a Headhunter.” Where do these terms come from? How does such violent language come to be used so casually in our everyday workplace? And how did we come to be so desensitized to their violent intent?

My contention is that they arose from an increasingly violent culture that has opposed/fought/declared war on anything it did not like. Our first reaction to something that we don’t like is to directly oppose it in some form. Strike it hard and often until it cries ‘uncle’. Remember the War on Drugs, the War on Poverty, and the War on Crime? In HR we have “the War for Talent”.

Violence has always been a part of existence. When transplanted to our modern world of business, Darwin’s concept of the ‘survival of the fittest’ seems to compel us to directly confront and try to overcome things we don’t like. As managers, many times our first reaction to a situation that is not to our satisfaction is to oppose it and impose our way to get our way. For example, when an employee misbehaves, underperforms, etc. we impose discipline. While this might get the employee to comply with our wishes, it very likely will not get him/her to buy into the reason for complying. Instead, this approach will more than likely evoke resentment, disengagement, or other unintended consequences on the employee’s part. Collective bargaining is another area of HR characterized by violent language. Both labour and management, say they are going to sit down to ‘hammer out an agreement’.

Organizations have tried to come to terms with the various forms of violence that can, and too often do occur. Their HR Departments write policies on harassment, violence, and discrimination. However, these policies do not inform employees about how to act, how to treat others or what the workplace should be like. They are all ‘anti-policies’ rather than positive policies that guide employees about what to do and how to act.

Although it is easy to make light of this viewpoint, I think it really needs to be taken seriously because of the way in which this mind-set affects our approach to various issues in HR, whether it be recruiting, employee relations, orientation, etc. Our mental models affect the way in which we view issues, which, in turn, affects the manner in which we deal with them.

What is needed in HR is a mental model that will lead to issues being dealt with in a more civil manner; a model that will enable managers to understand the employees and their behaviour; a model that will enable managers to prevent non-productive behaviour and enable them to deal with any transgressions of reasonable workplace rules in a civil manner that will, more often than not, result in willing compliance. That is the challenge for HR in the coming years.

~ Michael Zroback

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