Up With People

By: MarkWeaver Monday November 3, 2014 comments

Ever wonder why we call the people we work with “employees” and where the term came from?  Here’s a quick history:

  • Implicare (Latin):  To enfold, involve, be connected with.
  • Empleier (French / Anglo – 1500s):  To hire, engage, involve in a particular purpose.
  • Employee (today):  A person who works for another in return for money.

Over time, the word has lost meaning.  People we work with have been reduced from those who were involved, connected, and engaged, to a transaction.  To make it worse, we use tired phrases such as, “Our employees as our most important asset,” thinking that communicates value.  But an asset is something we own, use up, and expend to pay obligations.  Sounds like a commodity; not people.
I got my start in “HR” working for Philip Crosby Associates – the company founded by Quality Guru and best-selling author Philip Crosby.  The people who worked in his fast-growing and very successful company were called “associates;” no one was ever referred to as an employee.  Here’s another quick word history:

  • Associatus (Latin): To join, attach, work with, unite with.
  • Associat (Middle English):  To unite, join.
  • Associate (today):  A person who you work with or spend time with; a partner, colleague, companion.

That word hasn’t lost meaning over time.  And it sounds like someone you would enlist, envision, and engage, rather than a transaction or something you own.  If you want a party to a transaction, that’s probably all you’ll get.  By the way, entitlement comes along with that.  But if you want someone who will partner with you to get the job done, grow the company, raise funds, cut expenses, find an associate.


About the Author: MarkWeaver


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