Mind Your Language – Avoiding Corporate Workplace Jargon

The use of buzzwords are a common daily occurrence. How often have you heard phrases like ‘touch base’, or that someone is ‘blue sky thinking’? What about ‘thinking outside the box’ and having something finished ASAP by EOD? Even since the coronavirus pandemic, how many times have you heard business operations referred to as ‘the new normal’?

We are all guilty of using phrases like this, in fact, we might have even found ourselves using them in our personal lives, whether accidentally or as an in-joke among friends. But one thing we might not be aware of is how the overuse of jargon can be its own form of ‘social distancing’ in itself.  

A recent survey from Duolingo and LinkedIn reported 58% of workers feel that too much jargon is used at work.  Around half of Gen Z and millennial employees also say that they have felt excluded from their workplace as a result of the excessive use of jargon, with phrases such as ‘double-clicking’ and ‘circle back’ being used more frequently.  

When you are new to the industry or just starting out in a new job, it can be difficult trying to juggle responsibilities on top of learning the office lingo. Abbreviations are one of the most common challenges, alongside common (or not so common) turns of phrase. “Is that acronym a client, a regulation, or an instruction?”Why are my colleagues talking about rows of ducks and hanging fruit?” Perhaps even more frustrating is that there is often no reference guide for understanding corporate speak upon entering a new workplace. 60% of workers have said that they have had to figure out what particular buzzwords and key phrases mean on their own, a process that takes time away from regular tasks as well as creating unnecessary stress.

Inclusive Language and Accessibility

In a previous insight article, we recognised that inclusive language can have a major influence on culture in the workplace, and with such a  greater focus on firms to meet targets for diversity and inclusion, the use of jargon can be a difficult barrier when trying to accomplish this. Often, workplace jargon can be so ingrained into the office culture that we may overlook the significance of the words we use, whether they are always inclusive or accessible, and not realise that we may be accidentally excluding others from conversations.

Staff who are neurodivergent, for example, may struggle with jargon if they are not used to hearing it, and certain phrases may take on a literal meaning, taking on a difficult project for example may not involve herding literal cats, after all. Staff who are new to the local area may also not understand regional colloquialisms or are used to using their own, resulting in more confusion from both sides. Staff with dyslexia or similar impairments can also be affected by jargon, particularly when abbreviations are being used extensively without providing a wider explanation.  

So, what can firms do to mitigate corporate jargon in the workplace:

  • Removing any jargon from job descriptions
  • Use simple and plain language in communications, instead of “let’s roll our sleeves up, guys”, say “let’s get the work done as soon as we can.”
  • Encourage regular discussions and feedback between line managers and employees to ask questions if there are words or phrases they need help with understanding
  • Identify commonly-used phrases used within the firm and address whether alternatives can be used for better clarification
  • Be mindful of employees new to the industry and might not yet understand all the terminology
  • Minimise the use of abbreviations e.g. ‘by close of business’ instead of just ‘by COB’.

Inclusive language builds a shared community, it is important that we are mindful of how we communicate with others. This is not to say that jargon should be eliminated entirely, however more should be done to ensure that the meanings behind them are not entirely lost on those who may need to understand it most. So, perhaps ‘Going forward’, when you are communicating with colleagues, you might want to ‘hold fire’ on what you want to say consider how you are saying it.

If you are already a Development Zone user, you can find a range of courses related to topics we have touched on in this article, including:

If you are new to the Aviva Development Zone, we offer a 14-day free trial where you can try every feature and every course! Click here to find out more: https://mydevelopment.zone/

About the author

Jessica joined RWA in 2018, having graduated with a First Class Honours degree in Film Studies. Her role as a content designer involves developing new and engaging e-learning modules as well as assisting in the creation of articles for Insight. 

Get UKGI Insight In Your Inbox

Regular business news and commentary delivered direct to your inbox each week. Sign up here