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We never use the “e” word (and we’re not alone)

May 11, 2015 Blog 2 min read

Last month, our own Chris McCoy and Jim Proppe had the opportunity to present a breakout session at the Great Place to Work (GPTW) Conference in Dallas. After the session, Vlad Coho of Riot Games (developer of the astoundingly popular League of Legends videogame) approached Chris. “I noticed you didn’t use the word ‘employee’ at all during your presentation,” he said. “Was that intentional?”

Was it ever. As far back as the days of co-founder Frank Moran, Plante Moraners have loathed the “E” word. Why? Because we’ve always felt that it misrepresents the relationships we have with one another. It implies we work for one another, not with one another. It implies a hierarchy, an “I’m better than you” mentality versus the “We’re all in this together” sentiment we strive to embody. It has no place in the Plante Moran lexicon, let alone our culture.

Instead, we use “Plante Moraner” or, if we need a more general term, “staff member,” which implies a horizontal framework where we’re all part of the same team versus the vertical hierarchy inherent in the word “employee.”

Not only did Vlad share our contempt for the “e” word, but he, too, has penned a blog about it: “The dirtiest word in the corporate lexicon.” Vlad writes, “The word is loaded with baggage….It reminds people of the power differential between manager and managed, between corporation and labor….Call me employee, and you’re only reminding me that our value systems are at odds, and that I should probably be working somewhere else.”

He also brought up the point that the word is never applied to elite teams. “The first man on the moon didn’t say, ‘One small step for an employee of NASA, one giant leap for mankind.’ Navy Seals aren’t proud to be ‘employees’ of the U.S. government. Instead, they’re proud to serve their country.”

It reminds me of an old story often told about NASA and a janitor there. When asked what he did for a living, he didn’t say, “I’m a janitor”; he said “I’m sending men to the moon!” There’s something to be said for a company culture in which team members identify with its higher purpose. We’re not “just accountants;” we help people grow their businesses beyond their wildest dreams.

And Vlad doesn’t just work at a video game company. To him, Riot feels like “a team of elite ninja operatives hell-bent on a shared mission: serving players and making the world a much more fun place to be (if you‘re a gamer).”

Riot debuted this year on FORTUNE’s list of “100 Best Companies to Work For” at number 13. That’s one of the great things about attending conferences like GPTW—the opportunity to meet other, like-minded companies who see their staff members for what they really are: people looking to make a difference if only their companies will empower them to.

What do you think? Should “employee” be banished from the corporate lexicon? And do you have a particular way of referring to your coworkers?

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