We're human beings, not human capital

2005

A story filed just before Christmas by the Canadian Press news agency has thrown up an interesting angle on the 'human capital' debate.

According to a public-opinion analysis carried out for the federal Finance Department by Decima Research, Canadians are turned off by the word "productivity and find the phrase "physical capital" almost as offensive.

And the term "human capital", it seems, is even worse.

Improving productivity has become a priority for Canada's ruling Liberal party, and a plan to increase productivity was the centrepiece of their November mini-budget.

But, says Canadian Press, many people "suspect productivity is just code for layoffs and squeezing more work out of fewer employees."

What's more, the Decima research found, using management buzz-words such as "human and physical capital should be avoided in communications aimed at the general population."

"Not only were these (terms) overwhelming for participants, one (human capital) was in fact offensive to some. "Some people thought that being referred to as "human capital" equates workers to some sort of drone, concluded Decima, which conducted a total of 10 focus-group sessions last July in five cities across the country - Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Saskatoon and Vancouver.

"I'm no one's 'capital'," said one participant. "I chose to work; I'm not someone's capital," said others.

But other words were considered positive: "prosperity" was seen as a good thing, as were "growth", "innovation" and "investment in education".

So is this is strictly Canadian phenomenon, or would the same be true in the U.S, UK and elsewhere? Although if the number of times Britain's Chancellor utters the word "productivity" is anything to go by, it doesn't have the same negative connotations here as it does in Canada.