The HR buzzwords that you really need to ditch

Eloise Barker · 03 Nov

Why do we use work jargon and business words? Sometimes, to make us fit in, sometimes, to make us sound authoritative, or sometimes, to make others feel less so. Read on to discover whether your buzzwords are actually 'buzzkills' for your team.

We all love to hate a bit of work jargon. We tease people who use it… and then sometimes, we find ourselves in a situation where no other word will get the point across as well.

Buzz words in the office are really a form of cliché. And clichés exist for a reason: sometimes there really is no better way to describe a straight distance than ‘as the crow flies’, just as sometimes there’s no better way to express the success of a social media campaign as that it ‘created a lot of buzz’. Familiar turns of phrase can make your audience feel comfortable and at home. 

A common vocabulary can be key at work. If philosophers had their way, before anyone started speaking to anyone else, ever, everyone would need to define every term they used. For example, it's useful if you and your employees all have a shared understanding of the words you are using, whether those words are 'apple', 'a strong cup of tea' or 'an important meeting'. Using a shared language is the shiny key to excellent communication.

Limiting your lexicon

But what happens when you ONLY use a handful of shared words? Well, the words can lose their value. Describing everything as ‘dynamic’? Soon, nothing is. What’s more, people will assume you don’t know any other words. Say your team use jargon in meetings: if the people in your meeting aren’t privy to your HR-speak – you’re not going to get your point across. You may even alienate them.

The corporate buzzwords we hate the most

There are some words that just keep cropping up. Like a bad meme, or an earworm song, that just won’t go away. Blame the press. Blame the ‘buzz’. Blame the trends. Often, the worst offenders are the trendiest words. What starts as a big trend at the start of the year will inevitably end up on a list like this one come December.

It was hard to narrow down a top ten from all the shiny, trendy business words blathering their way around the internet, our offices and our ear orifices, but we managed it. Here you are: the top seven (we couldn't cut it down to five) corporate buzzwords that we’d like gone by 2019.

talent buzzwords

The word: Talent

Can you use it in a sentence? "We're really looking to deepen our talent pool,", "We'll be doing some talent outsourcing,", or "We've been unclogging our talent pipelines,".

Why do we keep hearing it? Talent is taking over from 'candidate' as our expression of choice when referring to recruiting. And we’ll be hearing a lot more of it, now that companies have started using ‘talent acquisition’ in the place of recruitment. Same thing, different name.

Why we hate it: 'The talent' used to mean the pop star. As in, clear the decks, lackey, the talent is coming through. Unless you're hiring Mariah Carey, it seems a little excessive. Yes, it makes us, the talent sourcers, glamorous by association. But no, you've not discovered the next big thing just because you've hired a new account executive.

Offensiveness scale: Tolerable

The word: Millennial

Can you use it in a sentence? "We need to target more Millennials with this job advert," and "Millennials are killing golf/ nine-to-five jobs/ chain restaurants."

Why do we keep hearing it? This isn’t an HR buzzword. It’s a 2010s buzzword. Even your grandma knows what a millennial is (and hates them, apparently). But a millennial is simply someone born between 1981 and 1996. That’s a huge cohort – and the youngest of them are in their twenties. That means that most millennials are working, and that they make up nearly half of your workforce. You might even be one.

Why do we hate it? Ever heard of the ‘snowflake generation’? ‘Millennial’ has come to be a pejorative term – the generation whose tech-hungry habits have ‘killed’ certain industries. What’s more, people use it incorrectly to describe all young employees. In fact, if your employees were born after 1996, they are technically Gen Z. Use ‘millennial’ to describe your young employees and you sound ill-informed.

Offensiveness scale: For us, the consensus for 'generation snowflakers' is: ‘Not lit’

snowflake buzzword

The word: Viral

Can you use it in a sentence: ‘We’re employing a viral strategy’

Why do we keep hearing it? It’s funny how many of our hated HR buzzwords are misuses of tech words. On the internet, ‘viral’ is a goal. It’s every content producers dream: that they create something so amazing that it gets shared at an exponential rate, and half the world sees their cat fall out of a cardboard box by breakfast.

Why do we hate it? This is a classic case of survivorship bias. You will only ever hear about the campaigns that went viral. You never get to hear about the campaigns that didn’t, because these are the ones that don’t make the top of your newsfeed. It’s safe to say that the vast majority of the things that you do as an HR manager will not ‘go viral’. And that’s ok.

We need to stop pretending that ‘going viral’ is an achievable, or even a desired, goal. Instead, we should focus on strategies and campaigns that do some measurable good.

Offensiveness scale: Warnings issued

agile office jargon buzzword

The word: Agile

Can you use it in a sentence? "We need our employees to be more agile."

Why do we keep hearing it? “Agile transformation is the theme of the decade,” says Jan Bruce, founder of meQuilibrium.com, writing for Forbes magazine.“We’re saturated with reports, books, charts, infographics and white papers describing the agile organisation.” Conjuring up visions of acrobatic, exciting work environments, ‘agile’ is the new ‘dynamic’.

Why do we hate it? Agility, once a lovely word used at Crufts to identify the fastest border collie over a set of cute, dog-sized obstacles – now applies to everything. Strategies, organisations, people, meetings, methods, software and even brains can be agile. Worse, ‘agile’ is often used euphemistically to mean working flexibly – possibly even outside your normal hours. Used in the wrong way by HR, it can strike fear into the hearts of your employees, who might immediately think of slimmed-down teams, forced into working harder.

Offensiveness scale: Dangerous

The word: Smart

Can you use it in a sentence? "Working smart, not hard."

Why do we keep hearing it? As technology threatens to take all our jobs, someone, somewhere, decided that we should emulate tech in order to keep our jobs. Thus, we have smart phones and we have smart working habits.

Why do we hate it? Because we know we'll never be as smart as our smartphones. And we don’t need to hear this word all the time to be reminded of this tragic fact. HR managers who use ‘smart working’ run the risk of sounding like they don’t appreciate the hard work their colleagues do.

Offensiveness scale: Medium-rare

hack office jargon buzzword

The word: Hack

Can you use it in a sentence? "Six life hacks for improving your work/life balance", "sourcing hack", "I’ve discovered a new lunch hack,"(when pressed, the ‘lunch hack’ is normally 5-10 seconds of microwaving to soften the butter in your sandwich. Revelatory.)

Why do we keep hearing it? Our theory is: in an attempt to show that we are as productive and modern as computer programmers, we have taken over their words, and immediately ruined them.

Why do we hate it? 2014 called… it wants its lame word back. A ‘hack’ once meant something disruptive and revolutionary. It meant you’d seen through the matrix. Now it just means you’ve discovered a new shortcut on your keyboard. It’s lost its impact, and therefore you should drop it.

Offensiveness scales: Mildly dated

The word: Wellness

Can you use it in a sentence? "We've achieved some employee wellness goals."

Why do we keep hearing it? Because health and wellbeing is important. It’s great that companies are talking about subjects like mental health and mindfulness – and great HR teams really are leading the way towards making these themes understood and accepted. Even five years ago it was harder to speak up about your wellbeing, and now you can talk to work without fear of judgement or repercussion.

Why do we hate it? This is a case of a useful, inoffensive word being overused. 'Wellness' has become a blanket term to cover physical and mental health, but it also seems to cover fitness, smoothies, and even just having a nice sit down at the end of the day if you're feeling a little tired. We're sick of hearing about wellness.

Offensiveness scale: Well annoying

wellness office jargon buzzword

So there you have it: the words that we hope will go the way of ‘viral’, ‘synergy’ and the dreaded ‘circle back’: into the internet archives – potentially to resurface as a meme – but never to be used IRL again.

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