Everyone wants to be employed. No one wants to be an employee.

It is time companies and leaders stop referring to their team members as employees. I saw an announcement on LinkedIn recently in which the person was being named the President of a company he has been working at for a while apparently. In his remarks he referenced how much he respected and was continuing to support the company’s employees. It made me cringe.

The definition of employee is, a person employed for wages or salary, especially at non-executive level. No wonder seeing companies and company leaders refer to team members as employees makes me cringe. Yes, everyone works to earn a living. But for most people to feel good about what they are doing and who they are doing with it goes way beyond the pay they are receiving.

Is referring to employees as something other than employees just spin to make everyone feel better? I’m open to that and have thought about it., but disagree. I think it creates an environment of respect and appreciation. Referring to employees as something else demonstrates to them that you don’t just view them as interchangeable or disposable entities. It demonstrates you value and appreciate their contribution to the company’s mission and that you value them as people, not just the work they perform for the company.

Team members is what we use at AWH and I would encourage you to adopt it as well if you are still referring to the team as employees at your company. I really like team members over the other options such as associates because everyone wants to be part of a successful team. Being a team member means being included, supported, and valued. It also means supporting, valuing, and respecting your teammates. I found this on Wikipedia which summarizes being a team member nicely, “Team members need to learn how to help one another, help other team members realize their true potential, and create an environment that allows everyone to go beyond their limitations.” How spectacular would it be if that was the mentality and environment at your company and every company?

I can’t point to any scientific research that shows referring to and treating your team like team members rather than employees has any direct performance or monetary value to your company. I think this is one of those cases where we have to let common sense and our gut instinct to help guide us in the direction of what we know to be true and best.

If you currently are referring to your team members as employees it will take some time to change you it, but if you commit to start changing it today you will get there sooner and you will start to see the benefits of it sooner. There are tactical things to change, but there are also mental references to change. When the mental references finally make the shift and stick the tactical changes from employees to team members happen much faster. You will get to the point of being appalled when you see employee somewhere and want it changed immediately.

Being a great team, which is what every company aspires to be irrespective of size and type, one of the best ways to facilitate it is to have team members and not employees.

Originally posted as part of the Columbus Business First Leadership Trust blog series.

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