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8 executives on the office jargon we should cut out in 2020

There are some corporate phrases that even executives would like to see gone. (Source: Getty)

As far as corporate phrases go, there are some that are hated more than others – and then there are some that even executives are tired of.

Last year, the phrases “not aligned to the legislative requirements” and “voluntary employee separations” won the award for the most hated corporate doublespeak by the Plain English Foundation’s 2019 Worst Words of the Year.

But, going forward to 2020, there are others that we should just leave behind in the last decade.

Yahoo Finance asked a few company executives – including HR executives – about what office jargon we should ditch. Here’s what they said:

‘Agile’

A word that seems to have lost a lot of meaning throughout 2019 is agile. Businesses claim to be agile or to have adopted the agile way of working, yet in many cases, this isn't quite the case.

An agile business is more than stand up scrum meetings and post-it notes flooding office walls―it's a culture where every employee is empowered to make decisions, accountability is shared and teams work together to achieve a common strategic objective.

This is easier said than done though, with many companies bogged down in administrative burden and hierarchical structures. If we're going to do away with a misused term in 2020, let's make it ‘agile.

–Monica Watt, chief human resources officer, ELMO Cloud HR & Payroll

‘Work-life balance’

This term should well and truly be left in the last decade. We should instead be acknowledging the daily give-and-take: there are only 24 hours in any given day and there will always be times where I dedicate more time to my family or to my friends, to my hobbies or to my health or my career.

It is important to accept this and stop beating ourselves up for not having achieved the perfect, mythical ‘balance’. 

I take a more thoughtful view of working practices and have the opportunity to work whenever and wherever we can be most productive. This is because work is just one part of our lives and the better it fits with everything else, the happier and healthier we become.

–Jaime Nelson, managing director of strategy and marketing services at Hotwire:

‘Customer experience’

We need to think more critically about how we use the term 'customer experience'— it has quickly evolved into jargon companies use to describe why they have automated a point in the customer journey.

However, simply deploying a chatbot on a website or app does not constitute a better ‘customer experience’.

We refer to ‘customer effort’ as a concept, that is, looking at how hard it is for a customer to engage with an organisation. If the customer feels they need to put in more work than the organisation itself to achieve the desired outcome the only impact on customer experience is a poor one.

Only when businesses deploy intelligent, specially designed solutions that seamlessly engage with customers in their moment of need will organisations be able to reduce customer effort. Only then do organisations have merit to speak to their impact on customer experience.

–Robert Schwarz, managing director of enterprise and mobile ANZ at Nuance Communications

‘Married to the job’

I'd like to see us not only get rid of the phrase “married to the job,” but really shift the culture away from praising an unbalanced life. We sometimes applaud people who prioritise work over everything else, including relationships, when we should really be promoting balance and harmony with one's career — not being married to it.

We understand the emotional, mental and physical necessity of having a healthy work-life balance. Almost 30% of respondents on OkCupid said they don't check their emails on the weekend and 50% check only when it's urgent.

It's so important to set time aside for your personal life, whether that's with family or friends, or just spending time doing something you love. We all need to recharge.

–Ariel Charytan, chief executive officer at OkCupid

‘Digital-first’

Given the rapid pace at which businesses are embracing new technologies, most businesses, organisations and industries have already adopted digital-first as a core part of their strategiesrendering the term itself somewhat redundant.

As we enter a new decade, the focus must be on providing transparent leadership and communication, particularly during business changes. When a workplace attempts to make changes too quickly or without the right partner and expertise – especially large-scale technology or process changes – the success of a project can be undermined and result in employee resistance.

Whether you are introducing a new technology like artificial intelligence or replacing a legacy system, communication is critical.

Clearly communicating the reasons for a change and the benefits it will bring to the wider organisation will help businesses achieve buy-in, without the need for unnecessary jargon or sugar-coating.

–Shweta Mishra, director of HR, APJ at Rackspace

‘Value-add’

Any jargon that lends itself to ambiguity, particularly as we now largely communicate in shorthand over digital mediums, should be avoided in the office.

Leaders too often throw around jargon without context, clarity or actionable outcomes, leaving teams in limbo as they figure out what is actually being communicated.

For example, ‘value-add’ can easily be used as a filler by someone who doesn’t have specific ideas to share, and ‘it’s on my radar’ can be roughly translated to ‘I haven’t cared to take action on this item yet, and I am not ready to commit to a deadline.

–Nathan Knight, general manager for Lenovo Data Centre Group ANZ

Acronyms

When rushing to meet deadlines or pushing to minimise time spent on tasks at work, we’re all guilty of being lazy typists―delightfully infatuated with shortened words. Why spell out ‘estimated time of arrival’ when you can write ETA?

Jargon isn’t necessarily a dirty word. While popular culture (think Office Space and 30 Rock) has frequently lampooned office-speak, I’ve always found the contextualisation and clarity of jargon amongst a team to be more important than avoiding it altogether.

If your company is growing rapidly, you’ll likely have some new team members joining every week. As new hires are onboarded and learning the ropes, acronyms can make them feel like they don’t fit in and cause confusion that slows down learning.

If they’re embarrassed to ask for clarification, they’ll turn to Google instead of getting a correct, contextualised answer in-house.

Of course, common lingo will inevitably end up in conversation. However, always endeavour to use simple and clear language, not obscure acronyms, in internal channels for team cohesion and easy understanding.

–Fintan Lalor, regional manager, APAC, Wrike

‘Technological unemployment’

This phrase refers to human expertise and jobs that are being replaced by robots and has recently been tossed around the office in a negative way as technology continues to make leaps and bounds—transforming the way organisations operate and innovate.

This kind of jargon, however, can send the wrong message to employees and imply humans don’t stand a chance with the rise of robots and will ultimately be out of a job.

While it’s no secret Australia is currently facing a shortage of technology skills, there’s a clear opportunity for talent to upskill in all areas of technology, and it’s up to organisations to empower them to do so.

Technological unemployment should be a phrase of the past, and now’s the time to be honing in on skills so talent may work alongside advanced technology. After all, while technology may run the world, it’s humans who run the technology.

–Mike Featherstone, managing director, ANZ/APAC, Pluralsight

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