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Forget Human Resources, we need to become human radicals

I have a love-hate relationship with the term HR. I love the “human” side, where I’m in an industry that is focused on real, living people, but I hate the word “resource” which inadvertently defines those same humans as something to be used.

The term Human Resources was first coined in 1893 and became popular in the 1900s as HR departments were formed to “address the misunderstandings between the employee and employer”.

So much has changed in our workplaces since 1893 and while we have attempted to move away from the Human Resources term with phrases like “people and culture”, we are still stuck in an industry primarily defined as HR.

Looking ahead, our workforces are no longer just employees. The future of work means our workplaces will increasingly become a blend of employees, contingent labour, contractors, gig workers and even collectives of freelancers.

HR is no longer about employees alone, making it self-evident that the term Human Resources won’t be relevant for the future.


The term HR seems entrenched in business, so rather than change it we need to redefine what it means, and I believe it should be defined as Human Radicals.

The dictionary defines human as being “characteristic of humankind” and to be radical as “characterised by a departure from tradition; to be innovative, progressive”.

As such, I would argue that being in HR could be defined as “becoming innovative radicals for human kindness”.

As a recruitment agency owner, I know that change is easier said than done so here are a couple of places to start:


Let’s face it, for years a huge part of what HR has been is making sure we are compliant with the law. But the lawmakers are not keeping up with changing workplaces, and CEOs and boards simply don’t have the bandwidth to truly lead the change. It’s up to Human Radicals to move from the attitude that “we don’t include our temps in our definition of employees” or “they’re contractors”, to a new inclusive approach.

The old way of HR developed processes to comply with the minimum standard of the law and to cover them against the 0.1 per cent of people who behave badly.

The new way of Human Radicals will look for opportunities to treat all humans with radical kindness and dignity. They make everyone feel a part of their teams, regardless of their contractual relationship with the company. They are focused on making things easy for the 99.9 per cent of humans that are good, rather building processes for those who aren’t.

Which type of HR team would you rather have in your company?


There’s a Maori phrase “Aroha ki te Tangata” (love people). Aroha is loosely translated as love, but it so much richer in meaning than the English word love. It carries the idea of being kind and compassionate and gracious.

Having a company value of loving people is not currently the norm and can be hard to live by. But when individuals start to truly show Aroha, the line between work life and personal life blurs, meaning we need to be willing to step into uncomfortable spaces.

A few weeks ago I received an email on a Sunday from one of the solo mums on our team telling me her house was surrounded by two feet of water from a downpour of rain.

She didn’t want me to come and help, but I went anyway because that’s what Aroha does. I took my 13-year-old son along to check it out and on the way he asked what we would be doing when we got there.

I replied that I didn’t know. Maybe it would be something and maybe it would be nothing or maybe we just give her son a hug. The important thing for me was that we would do what we could.

To me that is the essence of what being a Human Radical requires. That we go beyond what the law requires. That we go further than our people expect. That we personally lead the change by going ourselves. And it costs all the resources of traditional business; money, time and focus. Which is exactly why we must do it.

I’m no longer a part of the Human Resources industry, but I’m still in HR. I’m now a part of a small tribe of Human Radicals, will you join?

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