When Did ‘Advocate’ Become a Dirty Word? 

Recently I posed a question on Twitter that stemmed from a comment I received at work.

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I’m not gonna lie. I thought most of the responses would lean towards “Of course not! Who ever suggested such craziness?”  To my surprise, there were quite a few responses of the “Well, yes; it does come off as kind of negative” variety. There was even a suggestion that considering oneself an employee advocate implies a lack of business acumen and ability to be a strategic partner. To that, my initial thought was “Who ever suggested such craziness?”

It appears the word ‘advocate’ is thought by many to mean someone who speaks for the voiceless and incapable. Therefore, being an employee advocate would imply that your employees have no voice or are unable to speak for themselves. I’m right about a lot of things but I’m not right about everything, so I consulted my good friend, Merriam-Webster, to see if maybe I was somehow mistaken about the meaning of the word.

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M-W assured me that I was not wrong. So now my question became, I wonder why this negative connotation of the word has developed in terms of an HR professional being an employee advocate? I think it stems from the outdated belief that HR is “for the employer, not for the people.” #PROTIP – The ’employer’ is comprised of people.

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Sometimes I wonder if I’m living in a fairytale world that doesn’t exist. A world in which everyone is (or at least should be) respected and valued equally at work. A world in which there is no “us vs. them” mentality when it comes to senior executive staff and non-senior executive staff. A world in which being an advocate for employees is viewed as a positive thing because there is an understanding that we are ALL employees. Everyone who draws a paycheck from an organization is an employee, regardless of the number of zeros on the paycheck.

So when I think of being an employee advocate I am not saying I am an advocate for ‘the minion’ against ‘the man’ because I don’t believe in having that type of delineation among staff. It serves no positive purpose. I am saying employee advocate in terms of providing guidance and support and working towards the best interests of the employee group as a whole. I certainly don’t see how being an advocate implies a lack of business acumen or the ability to be strategic. That is honestly just insulting.

I was disheartened to see so many of my peers align with this “advocate is a dirty word” mentality. Some agreed. Some didn’t necessarily agree, but they understood. I just shook my head in disamazement. (Yes; I made that word up.)

There was a speaker at #SHRM17 that said, in so many words, in order to get ahead, we have to speak to people in their language. So I guess that means I have to stop referring to myself as an employee advocate because apparently, it is a vastly misunderstood term that is perceived negatively. But my heart knows. My heart and Merriam-Webster.

#NotAThoughtLeader

 

2 thoughts on “When Did ‘Advocate’ Become a Dirty Word? 

  1. Enjoyed reading your blog, Tamara. Interesting.
    I think it all depends and I can see both perspectives. Regrettably, there are still many employers with an us vs. them culture/hierarchy that breeds mistrust and a whole host of other issues; one of which is where “advocate” may have a negative conotation. I would bet the company you describe where the word and role of an “advocate” is viewed in a positive light would be a preferred workplace for many!

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Sharon. It really is a culture issue. I’d bet the vast majority of execs who view an ’employee advocate’ as a negative thing have serious problems with engagement, morale and retention. It doesn’t have to be this way. When we stop building barriers between people because of their job titles, folks will realize that it behooves your organization to have an HR professional who supports ALL employees and that it doesn’t mean they can’t also support business initiatives.

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