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

It is high 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. 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 wince. Yes, everyone works to earn a living. But for most people to feel good about what they are doing and who they are working with, it goes way beyond the pay they are receiving.

Is referring to employees as something other than employees just an unnecessary spin to make everyone feel better? I’m open to that and have thought about it, but disagree. I think referring to employees as something more positive creates an environment of respect and appreciation. Demonstrating to them that you don’t just view them as interchangeable or disposable entities. It shows that you, as a leader, 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.

Here at AWH, we call our people "team members" and I would encourage you to adopt it as well. I prefer 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. This excerpt from Wikipedia summarizes what it means to be 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 sort of collaborative mentality and welcoming environment at 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. This is one of those cases where we as leaders have to let common sense and our gut instincts guide us in the direction of what we know to be best and most true to our company's core values.

If you are currently referring to your team members as employees it will take some time to change it, but if you commit to changing it today 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 change from employees to team members happens much faster. You will get to the point of being appalled when you see employee somewhere and want it changed immediately.

Doesn’t every company want to become a great team? One of the best ways to do that is to be a team, rather than just a group of paid workers.

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