Operating instructions: Employees as machines

Photo of Humanoid Android robot Alter by Maximalfocus on Unsplash

Usually in HR we say that employees are not machines to be switched on and left to run. But there are parallels between an employee and expensive machinery: we buy them (we call it ‘hiring’, of course) and we switch them on (through ‘induction’). Then we make our mistake: we leave them to run on their own.

We don’t do that to our machines. We check the instructions first:

  • Don’t leave the machine running unattended
  • Monitor the temperature
  • Monitor and adjust output
  • Check list of potential problems and solutions
  • Call the engineer

When the roof collapses and rain floods the machine, we take care before switching it on again.

If we change our factory layout and move the machine, we carefully reset it as we did when we bought it. We might call an engineer to help.

The same is true of this machine we call an employee.

If tragedy strikes (at home or work) this machine called an employee will need help.

Changes in the workplace will also affect this machine we call an employee. Get help. Call HR. Read the instructions.

Of course, employees do not come with instruction manuals. But two-way communication is the equivalent. Discuss the changes, the problems, the tragedies. Talk about what matters to the organisation, and let employees talk about what matters to them. Get a feel for how this ‘machine’ works.

Don’t treat employees like machines, but don’t treat them as less than machines either. Give them at least as much attention and respect as you give to the machinery you depend on.

What other parallels and challenges might there be in this comparison?


Contact Simply Communicate to help get your human ‘machinery’ running and smiling


Ian Webster

From Methodist minister to Customer Relations manager in a computer bureau to HR Manager in a newspaper printing and publishing company. Now focussing on training and developing people and HR & people-management consulting.

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