Jack Altman starts a otherwise sensible post called How much does employee turnover really cost? repeating one of the most misused metaphors in the world of work:

People are companies’ most important assets.

People are not assets, really, though. And trying to make the metaphor work — while now a commonplace in modern business writing— leads to all sorts of difficulties.

People aren’t on the company balance sheet, like real estate, or rubber gaskets.

Yes, I know that the intention of ‘our people are our most important asset’ was originally to not consider them as just an expense, which is where their salaries show up in financial statements. The expression was adopted to make workers seem more valuable than their costs. It was well-intentioned, perhaps.

However, we have to think of people in an off-the-books mindset. They are neither an asset or a liability: they are people.

So let’s drop the clichéd ‘our people are our most important asset’ saying, and simply say ‘our people are crucially important to the company’s success and future’, and leave the finance metaphors behind us.

Written by

Founder, Work Futures. Editor, GigaOm. My obsession is the ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future.

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