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I've been reading some e-mails from my supervisor and I've noticed that he always call me and my teammates "resources". For example, answering a manager's demand, he answered

At the moment I don't have any resource available for completing this assignment.

How can I approach him and tell him in a good way that we are collaborators, and not just resources ?

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closed as unclear what you're asking by jmac, CMW, RWY, jmort253 Mar 21 at 5:00

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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Could you elaborate on how you negatively interpret the term "resource" as in companies the HR department is "Human Resources" that is pretty common to my understanding. –  JB King Mar 17 at 21:02
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The expression "pick your battles" comes to mind. You only get so many complaints to your manager before you get written off as unsatisfiable; is this really where you want to spend one of your limited number of complaints? –  Eric Lippert Mar 17 at 23:19
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What exactly is your issue here? Are you new to the workforce? The term "resource" in this regard is rather widely used. I'd be cautious in taking a stand here when this is probably a non-issue. –  Hi pals Mar 18 at 0:52
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No, i'm not new. The problem is: he treats us like a resource. We are a 6-people software quality assurance in a 30000 employees company, with a 120-people IT department. When some big improvement is made by someone, like completing a test suite that a program requires, he just says "my resources have finished the test suite you asked for" to the managers. What the hell! We are teammates, and besides everything, he's not even a supervisor! His job title is Software Quality Assurance Analyst. That is what makes me angry... big companies really suck my self-esteem. –  Rodolfo Perottoni Mar 18 at 1:49
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Are you working for an English speaking company? As I see in your profile, you appear to be working in Brazil. Maybe the word he uses in Spanish is not appropriate, but calling employees (human) resources is OK. –  Quora Feans Mar 18 at 2:55

8 Answers 8

up vote 81 down vote accepted

This is a common approach in response to a work (overload?) request. This is not meant to be about you or your team.

Collaborators are generally people who work together to resolve an issue, task, project, etc. You are a collaborator once you are assigned a task, project or otherwise with other people.

"Resources" cover more than people. This may include equipment, people, time, money and more.

Your supervisor certainly may have the people and equipment, but might not have available time in the work schedule to complete the requested assignment in the time requested.

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Agreed - it's a standard term used in business. What does HR stand for, after all? It could be used in an offensive manner of course, but I've yet to see it. –  Dan Mar 17 at 21:05
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Absolutely. When planning and managing a project, the hours of the people assigned to the team are resources. If you work 40 hours a week, those 40 hours are a resource that can be assigned to one or more tasks. It's not a term that's meant to be taken personally. –  RobM Mar 17 at 21:22
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Yep, I would say the same thing of the team that includes myself. I don't think of myself as "just a resource", but my time is a resource in limited supply. –  Steve Jessop Mar 17 at 22:34
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Alright. I know that it's a common approach. But me and my teammates are getting really annoyed with this kind of treatment. Like, "hey boss, my THINGS are busy right now and i can't allocate someone to solve your demand at the moment". That is rude. Thanks anyway! –  Rodolfo Perottoni Mar 18 at 1:52
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Ok, your original message was missing this added information. The way it reads, you might have wanted to trade one title for another. I suspect that a 6 person QA team in such a large company might have a very tight schedule indeed and the team lead must manage a lot of pressure. I still do not think it is personal, especially if the lead (supervisor) has not been at this long. Try bringing up the "we are people" thought, if you can, in a non-confrontational way. It may just be how this person handles the position stress. –  Kevan Sheridan Mar 18 at 2:45

You need to handle the fact that in business, the term resource comes up a lot - for people, equipment and money. As a collective noun, resources are what managers manage. They manage resources to produce a specific output.

Why your manager is using it is another issue, but ultimately, if you are in a big company, the critical resources are going to be different. Some people might be managing people, machines, tools, finances. Ultimately, if one group is requesting work of another group, resources are the term they can agree on and are an accurate and useful measure of work.

Notice, the use of the term collective. Using it on an individual level can be concerning, but note the email you saw used it as a term for the whole group. You are in quality assurance, the critical resource could just as easily be server time for testing a processor intensive piece of software. Saying the generic "I haven't got enough resources" is a succinct way of stating this, and is a subtle way of saying, "If you want more output, I need more input".

Regarding what your boss wrote:

At the moment I don't have any resources available for completing this assignment

This is a factual statement. Your boss has a budget, which is used to pay staff and purchase equipment. If all of the staff are busy, and they have no more money to hire addition staff, there are no resources available.

Similarly, if the task was building a mile long ditch in a week, and all that was available was 6 people with 100 shovels, there are still insufficient and mismatched resources. This can be addressed by getting more people and possibly more shovels, or by getting some mechanical diggers. Either way, the foreman would need more resources to complete this task.

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In reading the other answers, it seems to me that they try to skirt around the issue and circumvent the actual question by saying something like:

"Resources" refers to more than just people, and the context of your situation is ambiguous (meaning your manager's response can be interpreted liberally, in a "non-offensive" way)

This is missing the point entirely, in my opinion. Because you are a resource.

It's very likely that your manager was referring to people as "resources". This is very, very common in corporate settings. I hear people referred to as "resources" every single day in my office. We often say things like:

  • "How many offshore resources do we have working on this project?"
  • "We don't have enough developer resources to meet this deadline."

It's not meant to be offensive. You take it to be dehumanizing, as treating you like an object. And in a sense, you are correct. In a large business, people simply are things, each of which has a function (your job), a price (your salary), and a value (how much you add to the company). To people like Senior Vice Presidents, workers are assets, exactly the same as the office in which you work, the equipment you use, and the product you produce/sell.

You may not like the fact that you boil down to just another number in someone's figures, at the end of the day, but that's the truth of the matter.

But there's no need to be offended by this! There is absolutely no negative connotation in a manager calling the people he manages "resources". My manager refers to me as a resource to other business people, and we have an excellent relationship, both professionally and personally. This issue is in your mindset, not in your manager. You are taking insult to something where no insult is intended or even present.

Instead, focus on what your manager is actually saying:

At the moment I don't have any resource available for completing this assignment.

If you look past the supposed slight, you'll see that he is actually protecting you from the other manager. He is protecting you from having to put in overtime or from becoming overworked in order to meet this other manager's demand and whatever his deadline is. And that's a good thing. It means your manager is putting his project and his people first.

If you don't like your manager, or if he treats employees in a poor manner, that's something different, and it's a product of his character. But his usage of the word "resources" has absolutely no bearing on that, and he uses it appropriately for a business setting.

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Very well said. I work in the consulting business and on one hand I'm a resource and referred to as one but on the other hand I'm treated VERY well as the company doesn't make money without people like me. You did a good job explaining the intent behind the statement. –  agrothe Mar 18 at 15:39
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I don't mind being called a resource as long as they continue to pay me! –  Michael Martinez Mar 19 at 18:05

From what you said, I don't get the impression that your supervisor treats you as a resource. There are situations where the term "resource" is fine: If your supervisor is asked to handle a job that takes six people working 40 hours a week and there are only four in the team, then he hasn't enough resources. How he treats people is a different matter.

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This is more of a comment than an answer... –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Mar 18 at 14:11
    
@Chad: I disagree. For me, this gets right to the heart of the question. The question title says that the supervisor treats the team as resources (which would be bad management), but the body complains about being described as a resource in an e-mail (which is fine). –  Paul D. Waite Mar 19 at 16:15
    
@PaulD.Waite - Which makes it a good comment, but it does not provide an answer of how to deal with the situation. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Mar 19 at 16:31
    
@Chad: I think it does provide an answer — specifically that no action is required. –  Paul D. Waite Mar 19 at 17:08
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@PaulD.Waite - Perhaps adding in a "You should do nothing, everything's fine, but if you were to talk to your boss, I'd say this..." would make this more complete. It's possible to suggest no action is necessary and yet still answer the question as if the asker still wants to move forward...... However, I'd say this is more a symptom of problems with the question than with the answer. Questions with more details and specific goals outlined tend to attract answers that make less assumptions and which are based on facts, references, and experiences that back up claims. –  jmort253 Mar 21 at 5:10

At the moment I don't have any resource available for completing this assignment.

You interpret it as the manager saying he has not enough people. From the context you've given such interpretation isn't justified. He/she is almost for sure meaning:

At the moment I dont' have enough man-days for completing this assignment.

Man-day or man-hour or man-whatever is a standard unit for measuring what's needed for development. It's not enough to have developers in the team, you must have them assigned to the particular task for long enough time. While the term "man-days" would be more precise in that context, maybe your boss prefers so-called-gender-neutral resources, or maybe he/she can't decide if it should be man-days or man-hours etc., whatever. It's just the workspace dialect.

However, if she/he would write:

We need to hire additional resources

it would be highly disrespectful. You don't hire resources. You hire people.

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Where I live (central US), saying "We need to hire additional resources" would not be disrespectful. It is what it is. I am a resource to my employer. –  Benjamin Hubbard Mar 18 at 21:40
    
@Entbark, I would not consider "We need to hire additional resources" disrespectful, but I would expect the message to be more specific, such as "We need to hire more QA personnel." Just telling the recruiter that you need more people isn't useful, if the recruiter doesn't know what position needs filling! –  Brian S Mar 18 at 22:01

How can I approach him and tell him in a good way that we are collaborators, and not just resources ?

Hmm. In your question you refer to him as "my supervisor", but in the comments you say "besides everything, he's not even a supervisor! His job title is Software Quality Assurance Analyst".

I'm guessing there's more to this than just your dislike of the term "resource". Perhaps you don't like your work being directed by someone who you feel is "not even a supervisor".

But let's leave all that aside and take your question as it was written. Your supervisor is probably using the words that are common to the meetings and conversations he is part of. Most likely he means no ill will - he's just writing as others in your company do.

To answer your specific question about how do you approach him - you just talk to him. Don't do this by email, do it one-on-one in person. Find a time when you can chat in private. You talk calmly, in a non-threatening way. And you explain how his words make you feel. Perhaps something like "I know you don't mean to offend, but I really feel funny hearing you use the word "resource". It makes me feel like a thing instead of a person. Could I ask that you say 'At the moment I don't have anyone available for completing this assignment.' instead? That would feel much better."

Notice I didn't say "It makes us feel"? You need to speak for yourself only, and not to make it sound as if it's "us against you".

Approaching it this way is more likely not to trigger anger on either side, and more likely to get him to stop using the word "resource" - which is what you have said you want.

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One of the things that managers do is "resource allocation", which includes deciding who will be assigned to do what tasks, depending on often conflicting requirements.

At the moment I don't have any resources available for completing this assignment

.. just means that (in your manager's opinion) he does not have people (or some other limited resource) available that are not already committed for other purposes, at least not enough to "complete the assignment".

On the other hand, from your other comments, it does sound like he's being rather insensitive in the treatment of his folks, sort of like a Dilbert situation. Maybe there is also some resentment regarding his suitability for the position (i.e. perhaps the apparent lack of respect is mutual).

If your company does 360-degree feedback reviews, I would expect this to come up, and hopefully some remedial action would be taken, if the feeling is general within your group. Perhaps he needs some management training. If the company culture is such that it does not correct this kind of problem with reasonable effort and within a reasonable time, the solution for you may be to move on.

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Given the level of answers that follow the lines of "resources" is a fine word when a manager is talking about the ability of his organization (the people, time, tools, etc) to take on work, or plan for the future - I'm hoping that it's become clear that the word isn't a loaded one and it's generally NOT a thoughtless case of demeaning the people who work on a project. In fact, a manager has to negotiate in a fairly impersonal, emotion free manner - saying "that will totally stress out the good people who work in this team" is a much less grounded argument than saying "I don't have the time, money or staff to take that on".

But what I feel we didn't answer well was - how do get this clarification within your relationship with your manager? Miscommunications like these aren't so strange, and it should be possible to clear up inside of the relationship.

If you see emails that seem demeaning to you, here would be my recipe for success - regardless of what words are bugging you.

1 - get a copy - like a printout that you can easily refer to.

2 - schedule some private time with the sender (assuming it's your boss) or with your boss if the sender is someone outside of your team or general communication paths

3 - ask for a clarification of the meaning. In particular, focus on any troublesome words in a neutral way - "I don't know what you mean by resources?"

4 - if the answer still strikes you as demeaning - state the issue in terms of yourself, instead of as an accusation - "I don't understand why you refer to me as a resource. I like thinking of myself as more than a number, and this makes me feel equivalent in value to the computer I work on."

5 - be open to the answer - one thing that managers do is translate between parts of the organization, it's a fair statement that if the manager was directing his message to his team, he may have used different words. So one fair point is that the audience makes a big difference in terms of how he refers to the team.

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