The Corporate Investment in People: Verbal Capital or What Most Call Hot Air

The Corporate Investment in People: Verbal Capital or What Most Call Hot Air

Even as the job market is dripping away, employers are also changing the way they fill the jobs that remain. There has been little or no notice given to this shift, and it is only just now emerging as a strategy. Indeed, its early ramifications are likely to be hidden by staffing actions that appear normal and appropriate for the early stages of a recovery. They are, however, radically different both in their purpose and ultimately, in their effect.

Historically, America’s employers, but especially corporate enterprises, binged on new hires when the economy was strong and purged those same employees as soon as it weakened. The strategy was oddly reassuring despite the disruption it imposed on working peoples’ lives. It may have made for tough patches in their standard of living, but they had the security of knowing that there would always be an eventual return to regular employment and the quality of life it supported.

This bulimic behavior also had no downside for employers. They added capacity or cut costs as necessary to preserve their bottom line. Workers were a fungible resource that could be acquired and disposed of just like any other kind of corporate property. In fact, at least a handful of corporations actually moved the recruitment of employees into their Purchasing Departments, figuring their well oiled processes could achieve greater efficiencies.

Similarly, Bond, a British staffing firm apparently hoping to establish its bona fides with American employers, published a book in the U.S. in late 2009 entitled Human Capital Supply Chains. While not actually saying it, the premise was clear: people were nothing more than paper clips with personalities and could be managed that way. All you had to do was rack ‘em, stack ‘em and move ‘em in and out the door.

Corporate leaders, of course, continued to lionize their employees in public, but their actions in private revealed a very different set of beliefs. They were P.T. Barnum reincarnate, and their oft-used barker’s call—our workers are our most important asset—was actually a cynical code for the suckers they were making of their employees. Behind the pretty veil of caring, they and their bean counter cronies decided that they could and would limit the corporation’s investment in its workforce to just that: verbal capital or what most people call hot air.

Thanks for Reading,

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